Sunday 28 February 2021

PodHub UK Podcasts for February 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
Tuesday 2nd February 2021
Steve and I return with a mid-week lockdown special! We're mostly nattering about my latest voyage into Samsung (which seems to be an annual event)! Also other topics though, including a flow of updates, Redmi reviews coming and a bit more Nokia nostalgia!

Whatever Works
Episode 130 - The Plucky Pianist
Friday 5th February 2021
Aidan and I are here once again with our mischievous fortnightly roundup of Whatever Works for us and you! This time we head for the Deed Poll office to call ourselves Ian, discover Thyme flavoured teeth-paste stuff, crack open the brandy and even have a go at the Test Match Special theme on a Thumb Piano!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 6th February 2021
Steve and I welcome back Mike Warner for another geeky roundup of all the stuff he's been up to as we also compare budget phones with flagships.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 7th February 2021
Gareth and I are back again with another weekly natter about all things tech that have caught our eyes. We Echo Amazon's 10-incher enthusiasm, decide whether or not BT and EE deserve a Halo, work out if Backup and Sync is great or crap and even send out an appeal to Stephen Fry!

The Phones Show
Tuesday 9th February 2021
Do join Steve over at his YouTube channel as he plays the value game with two phones from each end of the financial gulf!

Projector Room
Episode 81 - Spiderverse Whiplash
Wednesday 10th February
Here we are then with another natter about all things film, cinema and TV. I'm joined as usual by Gareth and Allan as we also find out what you've been watching and add our thoughts.

Phones Show Chat
Friday 11th February 2021
Steve and I are back with our usual roundup of what we're up to in the world of mobile phones. Plenty of topics flying around from the latest and greatest to the cheap'n'cheerful - and much between.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 14th February 2021
Gareth and I are back again to Wow! and ridicule (in equal measure) what's popped up in our tech eyeline this week! Our pulses race, even without an Apple Watch, as we chuck out Android in favour of ChromeOS. We Switch to Android from Nintendo and Edge towards a different browser. Instant gratification is ours from photos, some with sticky backs and we gobble Pi up whilst gaming! This clap-trap and so much more - come and join us! 

Whatever Works
Episode 131 - Scalloped Netherhose
Friday 19th February 2021
Aidan and I are back once again with an hour of fun and frivolous festivity for the fortnight! This time we Fan our Netherhose, massage giraffes and even bring Lego to our reception area! Do join us for the madness.

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 20th February 2021
Steve and I welcome first-timer on PSC Ian Furlong of CoolSmartPhone fame as we natter for an hour or so about his take on all things Mobile Phone. Loads of good stuff packed in as always.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 21st February 2021
Gareth and I are back again with our Sunday round-up of all things tech that seem mildly interesting! Join us again as we jabber on for a while! Sliding screens and tiny toys, Looting and shooting from your chair, Big beach boomboxes and BlackBerry's back - we Master a View of it all!

Projector Room
Episode 82 - The Red Rams
Wednesday 24th February
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with our thoughts and yours on the last fortnight of consuming all things cinema, film and TV. With the possible exception of cinema in the UK! Loads of goodies as we dodge the Red Dot, come #Alive and Think We're Alone amongst Tribes of Europa. Join us to make sense of all that!

The Phones Show
Episode 416 - QWERTY Options in 2021
Tuesday 24th February
Join Steve as he considers the question of QWERTY in today's modern glass-slab dominant world of smartphones and other devices too. Is there still a place for it?

Phones Show Chat
Episode 627 - Strung Up With Android
Saturday 27th February 2021
Dan Carter is back this week to chat with Steve and I about all things mobile phone and beyond. Loads of good stuff as usual.

Tech Addicts
Sunday 28th February 2021
Come on in and join Gareth and I again this week as we chat about all things tech on a Sunday lunchtime! This week we bang on about Biological Batteries, Battlestation laptops, Smart Benches and pastel shades of iMac whilst juggling 29 million refunds, 1" phone-camera sensors and consider cute Canon Weebles wobbling! Enjoy. We did!

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

Friday 26 February 2021

Realme X50 5G

The Realme X50 5G became available in the summer of 2020 and the company sent one over for us to look at in error as we had in fact asked for the X50 Pro, a more highly specified mobile phone. Consequently we sat and waited for that to arrive and to swap them over. But it never did. So we didn't! Some way down the line then, I thought I'd fire it up and see what the X50 5G (non-Pro) has to offer.

The bright yellow box contains a 30W charger, pokey-hole tool for the SIM Card tray, USB-A to USB-C cable, the usual papers, a 'smoked' TPU and the phone itself. In this case it's Ice Silver but the global version (which this is) is also available in Jungle Green. The RRP for this unit last summer was £279 but it can now, in spring 2021 be snagged for certainly less than that with various deals to look out for regularly.

First impressions physically are that it's very similar in size to many phones these days (big!), in most dimensions, including those I have to hand here, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, Nokia 9 PureView and Moto G Pro. It feels solid in the hand and quite heavy/robust. It comes with a plastic on the screen (that didn't last long in my hands!) and is incredibly slippery. The front of the phone is flat glass with two top-left (portrait) selfie-holes and the back, surprisingly at this price-point, is glass too. Very smooth it is of course and the Ice Silver has that now-common 'shimmering' look to it which catches the light at every turn. Even more surprisingly, the frame is made from aluminium, making this a really very well constructed phone.

There are two separate volume buttons on the left which do have a little bit of sideways 'play' when moved and on the right is a slim capacitive fingerprint scanner and power button combined. Up the top there's a microphone and at the bottom, USB-C port, SIM Card tray and loudspeaker. The curved back of the phone meets the aluminium frame nicely and camera cluster laid out nicely in landscape. The island sticks out a millimetre but is completely protected with the TPU in place, having its own 'ridge'. The TPU fits like a (very tight) glove and is quite hard to get on and off. Good and bad!

First things first and the SIM Card tray has a trough each side of it for two nanoSIM cards and is very small, like a Pixel tray. The setup procedure got confused at the point of choosing default Search Engine, but I've seen this elsewhere to be fair, so not unique to Realme, sending the user back in a loop to an earlier point in the setup procedure. Would confuse many. Furthermore, I told it to copy from my Pixel and it started to do that - signed in and all, then it all seemed to fall apart and started me from scratch anyway, not signed into anything Google on the Realme. It seemed to be the sign-in process that fell over as when I manually signed in via the Google App on the Realme it started copying from my Pixel. Needs work by someone!

No Gesture Navigation on by default and the usual hunt was needed in a disorganised Settings to find it and turn on. The fingerprint and face ID were quick to register and appear to work well on both counts. Settings allow for options to lift-to-wake via face or touch fingerprint scanner, pattern or PIN unlock - all the usual suspects. The face unlock can be set to bypass the lock-screen, which is great if less secure. I suppose.

Let's get the bloat discussion out of the way next! Ready? Deep breath. Included against my will are Calculator, Clock, Clone Phone, Compass, FaceBook, File Manager, Game Space, Phone, Photos, WPS Office and Weather. Of those, only FaceBook and WPS Office can be uninstalled. I give a pass to Music and Videos for playing local media content. Actually, it could have been a lot worse. Many are! On a positive note, Google's Messages and Contacts are the default applications. So a few minutes to get organised with that and we're onto the Home Screen.

Thankfully Realme have allowed the Google Feed to the left (hurrah!) and an option of an App Drawer - even removable At A Glance and Search widgets from the home screen (one up on Pixel)! Long-press the home screen for a bunch of options including wallpaper, scrolling effects and Widgets (which are unhelpfully only on a carousel along the bottom of the screen, though perfectly functional). The notifications panel certainly has nods to iOS, but it's perfectly usable and clear, so no complaints. Edit which toggles you want to see in the usual way and get access to the brightness slider etc. The Status Bar's icons are a little small for my liking, but otherwise fine - apart from all being shuffled right to make room for the two Selfie cameras.

I'll come to Settings in a minute but just to mention that this phone is running Realme UI 1.0 and there's a promise to push 2.0 based on Android 11 to it sometime in 2021, but no specific date. According to 91mobiles, Realme UI 2.0 brings a whole bunch of stuff including Dual Mode Music Share, customisable notification bar colours, and three styles of Dark Mode, global Theme colour function, Always-on-Display, new fonts and icons, Sleep Capsule, Floating Windows, Deep-Sea Privacy Plan to ensure that the user’s data and information are safe and secure and many more! Sounds like it's worth the wait - especially for the AoD!

Settings, then, remains a complicated mess in my view, compared to the 'standard' Google configuration. Once again, fine for someone to spend two years with but coming from a 'clean' Android version such as a Pixel, Moto, Nokia or Sony, it's just a case of there being stuff everywhere. Once found, make a note of it! Hopefully in UI 2.0 they will also improve the search engine and some of the terms used in order to find various settings. Don't get me wrong - there's oodles of good stuff in there - all sorts of 'extras' available, many of them well thought out and often enhancing the Android experience. My complaint is just that I can't find anything I am looking for without a treasure map! Drilling down into all that stuff is much like it was for the Realme X3 SuperZoom which I reviewed back last year, so do check that out to save repetition here.

The front panel is, as I say, flat and an IPS LCD with a refresh-rate of 120Hz, which was unexpected. It's a 6.57" 1080p 20:9 screen returning 401ppi. For those who can tell the difference, the 120Hz must be excellent. I can - just. But I seem to be alone! It is certainly rapidly becoming standard (also among mid-tier devices) to up the screen refresh-rate (and even into the low-end as we go forward). I have just switched it to 120 from 60 and really can't tell - I don't think! There's an auto-switch too, so presumably 120 means forced 120 without resorting to developer settings.

The overall brightness looks great to me but the auto-setting is a bit aggressive towards too dim. Presumably it will learn in time. As I usually say at this stage, this is no 'deep-blacks' OLED but it's perfectly usable and for me at least, bright enough even outdoors. The colour can be changed from Vivid to Gentle but it really needs to stay on Vivid! Gentle is just dour! You can also warm up or cool down the colour temperature for small changes. Looking at my photos, they look bright, colourful and as saturated as they were when I took them! In general I think the screen is great and perfectly usable for most people.

Currently the phone is running under Android 10 (Realme UI 1.0) and when I turned it on it jumped to January 2021 Google Security, so not too bad at all. It is sporting the SnapDragon 765G which is the same as used on the 2019 Pixel range. My usual tests copying data to and from a PC, a microSD Card (via adapter here) and an SSD via USB-C (UFS2.1) demonstrated that it's not the fastest read/write arrangement in the world (slower than the Pixel 5 for example) but gets the job done. Who's in a hurry!

The chipset performs perfectly well for everyday use. I had a car racing game going to test this and it seemed to run perfectly well to me - maybe not so much a more demanding game. There's 6GB RAM on this unit, which, again, seems to slide through all the tasks needed for everyday use without clouting apps from yesterday on the head! There's an 8GB RAM option available in some markets.

Yes, there's no microSD Card slot here sadly, which is kind of unusual at this price-point really but becoming a bit more popular with these Chinese phones. To be fair, with 128GB storage here, plugging in media to the USB-C when needed does the job for more (unless you need to charge too - adapter time)! The phone reads and writes to/from my 512GB card (via that adapter) and also the 2TB SSD. Almost needless to say there's no HDMI-Out here, so my attempt to play media on my telly using a cable was once again, an act of purest optimism!

The X50 5G has a single mono speaker firing out of the bottom of the phone. Initially testing with the supplied Music app, the output is certainly loud enough for the average user and for personal use, not a party! Sadly, the quality is not great. A tinny top-end is cringeworthy, bass almost non-existent and the always-on (for speaker) Dolby with four pre-sets (Smart, Movie, Gaming and Music) really don't help much at all until you get down to about 50% volume. So to a Music player in which equalisation is possible and yes, where the equalisation sliders can be adjusted, a reasonable tone can be achieved - but as always, with the volume pay-off. Less loud! For personal use on a desk whilst working this is fine, of course.

The supplied Video app doesn't even let you get to the Dolby controls during play which makes it a bit peck-and-hunt to try and tell if it makes any difference! But it doesn't, so I'll save you the bother. Same is true in YouTube and any other media playing app of the ilk. Fire up something like VLC and you can get to some control of course and for casual viewing alone, it's fine. Just not great. Or even good! Perhaps headphones will help.

Oh no, there's no 3.5mm audio-out socket. Never mind, I have a dongle - and can try Bluetooth of course. The audio output is supposed to be 24-bit here so it should be decent enough but I don't have a pair of USB-C earphones here to try it on a basic level. Oh well, enhanced Razer Phone dongle it is! Guess what? It sounds fabulous. Which is what you might expect with 24-bit and 32-bit gear being used in tandem. You can also then drill down further into the Dolby settings and play around with more pre-sets and adjustments. Good stuff.

What's not so good is that you still can't get to the Dolby settings while video is running in the background in their own Video app! You can (well, I can) in YouTube and using the Music App of course but this renders it not really system-wide Dolby. Update: I've now laid hands on a simple USB-C to 3.5mm dongle for a couple of quid from Amazon and as we might expect, it's nothing like using the Razer unit but it's really not half bad. The output into my reference headphones is clean, a little lacking in bass compared to the Razer's dongle and certainly not as loud, but really quite good enough and loud enough for most users.

Bluetooth 5.0 works perfectly well either hooking up to a speaker or earphones and produces an excellent sound as we have come to expect, depending, of course as always with connected equipment. The pairing process was very quick and straight-forward and the phone held onto the signal for a reasonable distance. It's getting quite hard to fault Bluetooth performance these days on any phone.

Connectivity seems solid with 4G for cellular on both calls and data in my tests. I'm unable to test 5G I'm afraid, but presumably it works too! Apparently you can put a 5G SIM Card in both slots and expect data on either. As I said earlier, bluetooth seems great and NFC tested here works well for communication between devices - presumably if I was allowed out it would work with Google Pay! GPS has been tested here with mapping and various weather apps - all seems in order and getting/holding a fix and WiFi has been tested with two routers and a MiFi. Apart from that wonky setup procedure above, the WiFi seems strong and good.

The battery is a 4,200mAh unit, so pretty big but certainly passed by these days as more towards 5,000mAh seems to be more the norm. Having said that, this battery seems to be performing well enough. 30W Fast Charging will get about three quarters of the battery charged from flat in half an hour, so that's good for emergencies. There's no wireless charging of course at this price, though as I have said before - what would it cost? Another couple of quid? Don't know - seems like nobody is bothered much about it anyway.

In my tests here, the pattern is becoming familiar with these phones with batteries around this size - during my testing period I was easily able to get through one day and without charging again, a good way through Day 2. With frugal use it could certainly make it to the end of that too. As for my 10% reading test, I've done this a few times now and the fairly clear result is about 1hr 30min which is far from the best but also from the worst. Batteries with this kind of performance make day to day use perfectly good enough for the vast majority of people.

Lastly, to the camera and the array offers a 
48MP f/1.8 (normal viewpoint) main shooter, a secondary 8MP f/2.3 (wide-angle), 2MP f/2.4 (macro) and another 2MP f/2.4 (for depth). The last two are often the 'fillers' to get the marketing specs offering a 'quad' arrangement but actually the Ultra Macro mode ain't half bad with close-ups. There's a whole bunch of modes to play with including the smart Google Lens, a Text Scanner, Pro Expert mode with the usual range of manual controls and for switching to RAW. No optical zoom here but a slider for up to 10x digital which is a bit fuzzy hand-held, but certainly useful enough at 2 or 3 times. But then it's only a framing tool, so the user might really as well crop later.

Night Mode
seems to do a reasonable job with 'hold still' then computing the best shot from the AI gathering as much light as it can etc. Portrait mode seems to deal well enough with limiting depth of field, throwing backgrounds out of focus pleasingly enough and if the user wants to force the unit to shoot at the full 48MP (instead of the quad-bayer at 12) they can do that too. There's an AI engine running for scene recognition if wanted (which seems to do quite well) and unstabilised video shooting at up to 
4K@30fps. Dual Selfies at 16MP f/2 (normal) and 2MP f/2.4 (depth) offer a reasonable Portrait facility with some blurring of background.

The cameras on offer here are pretty ordinary, even to me. There's loads of phones out there that will do pretty much the same job - more than good enough for the masses, but anyone with greater ambitions or pixel-peepers need to move along. It would have been great to at least see a 2x optical zoom here, but I do wonder if the target audience would value it. Maybe more useful would be OIS.

Let's go back to where I started then and Phones Show Chat awaiting the Pro model to compare this with (which never arrived). The near-double price of the Pro version would want us to be looking for much more. Certainly there's an AMOLED screen, but not with the 120Hz refresh-rate offered here, only 90. A SnapDragon 865 instead of 765G. Doubt if most of us would have been able to tell the difference outside of heavy gaming. More storage options and RAM, but the price difference then goes up even more. I would personally value the better sound output via stereo speakers, but I'd have to hear that to know as it could still be tinny and poor like this one - only double - and I would actually rather have the side-mounted capacity fingerprint scanner than the Pro's under-glass, however good it is.

The Pro does have a 2x optical zoom and I have already acknowledged how useful that can be for some but the rest is insignificant in terms of better features. Alright, faster charging capability - but there's really not much here to justify doubling the price and this one remains much better value for money. However, this phone is now a year old nearly and other contenders have come along which frankly offer more. Xiaomi and Redmi spring to mind as they offer better and better features, constantly driving prices down. I shall look forward to the update of the UI to v2 especially for that AoD option.

But don't get me wrong, this is a very capable 5G phone indeed, very well made, with a large battery and a 120Hz refresh screen. If it were seen at the right price it would be worth grabbing, but not the price it is when those around it offer more for less. I might have recommended it last summer but at RRP it's not going to be a contender any longer. I reckon the right price now should be about £150 or so. How quickly things move on - there's nothing wrong much with this phone - it would serve the user well, but there's more out there. Better.

Saturday 6 February 2021

Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T

Xiaomi continue to attack most of the rest of the smartphone market with excellent devices via their Redmi brand in the same way as Oppo do Realme and so on. We all know the story - and apparently they're doing really well. Each release pricks up our ears to hear about how much stuff they've packed in and at what price. The Redmi Note 9T is no exception, but does it stand out from the crowd?

The phone is fashionably big even though the screen size is only 6.53". I say only, meaning it's not one of the oodles of 6.67" screened devices being pushed out there. But yes, still big. Bigger in every dimension over the Motorola One Zoom, Nokia 9 PureView and even Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. So big pockets and forget about one-handed use without trickery.

There's a sturdy, thick, very tightly-fitting clear TPU case in the box along with the usual stuff, USB-A to USB-C cable, charger and pokey-tool but no earphones. The unit I have here in for review thanks to Tim Pugh is a 64GB version (supporting UFS2.1), though there is a 128GB one out there too (supporting UFS2.2). This one has 4GB RAM, like the 128GB version, and is Nightfall Black. The alternative is Daybreak Purple. 

Part of the weight is of course the physical size but also the large 5,000mAh battery packed into the phone. This has 18W charging out of the box (from a 22W charger!) which gets you half full in about 45 minutes from flat and to full in under 2 hours. Needless to say, there's no Wireless Charging at this price-point, though I fail to see why. Surely a Qi coil can only be a couple of quid. With this battery and my average daily use, we're looking at getting well into Day 2 and maybe with a bit lighter use, the end of it. My Screen-On 10% Reading Test returned a score of a fabulous 2hrs 45 minutes, but to be fair I didn't have the device for longer than to be able to test this a couple of times - and it certainly wasn't 'run in'. Excellent performance anyway.

Hopping back to the physical for a moment, apart from being big, it looks very nicely made with a really nice textured plastic back. It feels a bit like what Google were after with the Pixel 5 but didn't quite get there. Not exactly 'grippy' but just textured and nice to the touch. The back curls round to meet the front screen in what appears to be one-piece which 'flattens' out top and bottom to accommodate the various ports. There's a circular-looking camera island on the back towards the top, central, Moto style, which is actually pretty attractive and boasts "AI Super Camera". It hardly sticks out at all - and certainly doesn't with that TPU in place!

The bottom has one of the two stereo speakers, USB-C data/charging port and a 3.5mm audio-out socket. The right side has a clicky and sturdy-enough feeling volume rocker above a long-pill capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button. On the left is a slider drawer which accommodates two nanoSIM Cards as well as a microSD at the same time. Good stuff! Up the top is the other stereo speaker which seems to have been smartly arranged with a 90-degree hole serving sound from both the front-facing earpiece speaker and channelled out of the top. Odd, but seems to work! It all has 'water repellent coating' so should survive getting accidentally wet.

The screen is a 6.53" 1080p 19.5:9 LCD panel returning 395ppi. There's a millimetre or so of bezel left and right, a tad more up-top and a tad more again at the foot. It's perfectly good, as far as I'm concerned, to say that the front of the phone is 'all screen', though purists will argue! There is a punch-hole selfie top-left but it's not too intrusive or big. There's a factory-fitted screen protector which I refrained from ripping off as the phone is a loaner! To be fair, the screen does seem to respond well enough with it there. Gorilla Glass 5 is used here and I have had trouble with that in the past with micro-scratches, so maybe best left.

The 60Hz refresh-rate screen (you really don't need more - really!) is nice and colourful, as bright as it needs to be at max. 450 nits (apparently) on auto-brightness. I don't have Florida sunshine to test the phone outside in bright conditions but it seemed to be good enough for use in the average UK day! The colour scheme can be adjusted to taste, including near-infinite adjustments to temperature. By the way, having taken the phone out of the TPU to continue the review I realise that without that case around it, it really does feel significantly less big. Maybe at this price-point, the risk of going nude could be considered for that benefit.

There's no Always on Display sadly, even though we know that this can be done with LCD screens, so only needs software. Always On AMOLED in the Play Store will fix this for users who find it important enough. Double-tap to wake works well to flash up the screen and Notifications can be set to wake the screen briefly. Otherwise, it's the capacitive fingerprint scanner on the side which seems to work really well, reliably and fast. Registration is short enough and this, supported by Face Unlock which, again, is reassuringly long enough to register and quick in use. Lift the phone, look at it, open. OK, slight delay - but it really is fast enough for all but nit-pickers!

Android 10 is present here out of the box with 11 coming soon, apparently. MiUI 12 provides for a near-enough-for-me Vanilla experience until we get into Settings, which really need the user to get stuck in (like a phone reviewer can't) and work out what is where and how to find stuff with an under-par Search facility. They will find it in the end and get used to it, but for me, it's just too far from Vanilla. What is great though is that I haven't felt the need to use Nova Prime Launcher with Google Feed as an option to the left of the home-screen, vertically-travelling App Draw (for those who want it), widget support and so forth. Outside of Settings and Themes and Galleries, which I'll come to, it really does feel like a nice UI. As I report in February 2021, the Google Security is up to December 2020. Could be better of course, but they seem to be not too far behind the leading pack.

I'm not Geek enough to report on the technicalities of chipsets I'm afraid but those who seem to know report that the MediaTek Dimensity 800U 5G (7 nm) employed here seems to equate in terms of performance with the likes of the SnapDragon 765/765G, which has been used last year on the aforementioned Pixel 5. Everything seems to be fast enough to me around the UI. I can usually tell at my level when I run tasks such as data copy from microSD Cards or my PC, or executing a backup of data to another device or a plug-in SSD for example. All seems good here, tasks are fast enough and it plays nicely with my 512GB microSD and 2TB SSD.

Yes, if you put it down next to a high-flying Samsung flagship and run similar tasks you'll see the difference in speed, but consider once again the difference in price. The target audience using this phone will have no complaints about speed around the UI and serious Gamers wouldn't even be considering such a phone for their high-octane activities! So, much as I have been afraid of the MediaTek word in the past, I think that things are changing and there's really no reason why confidence shouldn't be high, for the price savings involved.

Having praised the Vanilla-like attributes of this phone, I'm afraid that I will have to come to the bloat. Bear in mind that this was not an imported-by-third-party or user device, so destined for the UK market and sold by Xiaomi themselves. The following is clearly helping them to hit their price-point and yet maintain a good array of features and components. So here we go then...

The following pre-loaded but can be uninstalled
: AliExpress, Agenda, Block Puzzle Guardian, Bubble Shooter with Friends, Bubble Story, Crazy Juicer, Dust Settle, eBay, FaceBook, LinkedIn, TikTok, Tile Fun, WPS Office and Netflix. At least they can all be uninstalled, which is better than some others offer.
The rest are system-additions and can't be uninstalled, many double-ups on Google Apps, some will find useful, other will find in the way: ShareMe, Themes, Weather, Screen Recorder, Security, Music, Notes, Recorder, Scanner, Mi Community, Mi Remote, Mi Store, Mi Video, File Manager, Gallery, Mi Browser, Clock, Calculator, Compass and downloads. I do like to use a manufacturer's own Music and Video Apps but the rest can be lost as far as I'm concerned.
Strangely, they seem to have bought into Google's Phone, Contacts and Calendar Apps, so that's a start and a good way forward as far as I'm concerned. There will, as I say, be others out there who don't want to use Google's Apps whenever they can avoid them - in which case, they'll be happy. What's more annoying is the embedded adverts inside their own apps, such as the Security App which, when any of the modules are run and completed, pops up an advert, plug for some other App which they have, presumably, done a deal with. Bloat. Keeping the price down? Always a discussion point!

MiUI feels in many ways similar to what I reported in my review of the Redmi Note 8T and then Redmi Note 9 Pro though 12 (awaiting bigger changes in 12.5) tones things up, as described above. The Notification Shade remains very iOS in look and feel but maybe that's not a bad thing as it works really well and has oodles of options and layout possibilities. Swipe-down to get to see it and swipe-up for the App Drawer, hide the 'notch' is great, which I defaulted to, but of course the pay-off is less screen and bigger 'virtual' bezel. 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. There's tons of stuff to be discovered is Settings and in the UI (which I won't go over all again), some nicked from Samsung (and others) some unique to Xiaomi/Redmi. Certainly a new user would have a month of exploration ahead of them! I concluded.

Now to my favourite topic - sound! As I mentioned earlier, there are stereo speakers here, far from a given at this price-point though more devices are arriving with these as time goes on. Gone are the days where it was a USP for a device. The sound coming from this arrangement is usually of course at this price-point and way beyond, the kind of 'faux' stereo we have come to expect rather than the 'pure' stereo of equally firing channels left and right as the lesser earpiece is usually being utilised for one of them. So that's what I was expecting. But no, these speakers are far from the best on a phone but they are all-but 'proper' stereo with near-equal frequencies spurting from both ends. Furthermore, on testing with exploitative stereo recordings, it's clear that when the phone it turned around the left channel switches to the other speaker and vice-versa. Good stuff again!

There is limited control over the sound from the speakers without a third party Music Player but actually the sound isn't at all bad. It's certainly loud enough for most users. The quality, tone, bass and richness of the experience could be better - this is no Razer Phone or ROG - but again, for the price, it's very good. Plug in a pair of headphones to the 3.5mm audio-out socket and suddenly the user is hearing 24-bit/192kHz audio with full access to equalisation or auto-Hi-Fi sound adjustments and it sounds great. It's too loud for my poor old ears and I'm no audiophile, but for those who want bass, as always depending on attached equipment, the phone can do a good job. Once again, far ahead of what you'd expect for the price.

Bluetooth 5.1 is present here and as is rapidly becoming the case, the sound via this route is even better. Stunningly good. It's no wonder manufacturers are dropping 3.5mm audio-out sockets when the user would need very expensive headphones to get up to the quality of bluetooth output and reproduction. The bluetooth seems to pair quickly and allows for access to those sound adjustments making things (even) better. There's a recording FM Radio which seems to do the trick using something plugged into the 3.5mm socket as an aerial, picks up stations well and plays via 'phones or speakers.

Connectivity on my tests here seems good on all counts. I say this same thing every time I get a new phone in my hands but it really does seem to be true. Components getting better all the time, even at low price-points. NFC (though not tested with Google Pay) connects to gear well, GPS tracks quickly in various apps which need it, WiFi connectivity tested on two networks here is very good, fast and reliable and Cellular on 4G (couldn't test 5G) seems to be solid, holding onto a good signal reported both ends in voice calls and reliable for data, including via my MiFi. There's even an Infrared Port for those up to the challenge of making the best use of that.

Which brings us lastly (as usual) to cameras. Once again, I'm going to hand this one over to Steve Litchfield as I'm sending this phone to him for his thoughts. Steve's YouTube Channel will no doubt in the coming weeks feature this device, so check back there shortly. It'll be interesting to see what he thinks of the camera output in relation to the price-point (rather than up against the iPhone 12 Pro Max)! There's a 48MP/12MP f/1.8 (normal viewpoint) main camera, a 2MP f/2.4 (macro), 2MP f/2.4 (depth), capability of video recording up to 4K@30fps, 1080p@60fps and round the front, a 13MP f/2.3 Selfie shooter. There is a Macro mode which is pretty good (the first thing I test!) but not as close as some. The Portrait Mode seems to offer pleasing enough results for the masses. There are various modes in the camera app which could be of some use to people, including VLOG, Tilt-shift and Straighten! Anyway, I'll leave this to Steve. As usual for me, it looks like a perfectly capable tool for the vast majority of ordinary people going about their lives.

There's an awful lot of phone here for the money. A budget-5G phone for those who really think they need it yet! As we so often say now, it's a crowded place in this c.£200 (or so) bracket. Many more features arriving for less and less money. Compromises on performance less common, build and feel in the hand better. Bigger batteries and more power for the user. Yes, you're not going to get flagship performance from a £200 phone but the equation is offset in terms of value for money against features. And really - a 60Hz refresh-rate screen is perfectly good enough. Really!

You can get 5 of these for the price of an all-singin' and dancin' flagship - and when money is tight, or we're all just getting smarter, it makes an awful lot of sense to at least go for second-hand flagships or check out what the likes of these Chinese outfits are producing. Not such a hard choice for those with limited funds, but in a changing world financial astuteness is becoming key. Highly recommended for the price. There's very little not to like.

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