Monday, 30 August 2021

Sony Xperia 1 III vs Motorola Edge+

The Xperia 1, 5 and 10 lines have been the primary concern for Sony over the last two or three years. With each evolution of each of the lines there are improvements and possibly more importantly, retention of the stuff that's good. When I got my hands on the latest of the 1-line, the Mk.III, I was amazed at how similar it felt and looked, in many ways at first glance, to my Edge+ from 2020.

I thought a comparison between the two would be a better starting point than a straight review. Much of the common areas have been covered already by Steve Litchfield and myself on Phones Show Chat, The Phones Show, AAM and this very blog. Here's some links to be going on with for catch-up reading and viewing... Xperia 5 vs 5ii, Xperia 5, Xperia 1iii itself, Xperia 5iiXperia 1ii and Xperia 1ii (by guest reviewer Sethu Pillai).

Before we get to the comparison though, one aspect which is clearly different from the 5ii and 5iii is the size. The 1 range are significantly bigger, as indicated above, moving away from the dinky size of the 5-series which is very pocketable and small enough for plenty of one-handed use. The 1-series is simply bigger, in all directions. I can just about get my finger and thumb to meet around the phone's waist with a TPU in place, though it is much easier without. One advantage of that increased size is the increase in width for keyboard use. Instead of it feeling just a little cramped, as for the 5, the 1 lifts that up to be perfectly usable.

It's a gorgeously designed phone - and preferable to the 5 because of the more 'boxy' approach to the edges. It's a subtle thing, and subjective of course, but I like the more 'industrial' square lines whilst retaining the classy and premium feel. The black version here is subtle in design (as opposed to the flashy colours of many other phones) with a new matt finish on the back and beautifully crafted buttons around the rim. Everything about the finish is top-notch including the reassurance of an IP65/8 rating for dust and water.

That matt back is constructed with Gorilla Glass 6 protection and the front, Victus. The frame is aluminium which houses a volume rocker, capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button, Google Assistant button and shutter button on the right. There's a USB-C port and microphone at the bottom and just that SIM Card Tray on the left (which is a Hybrid Dual tray for 2x5G SIM Cards or one and a microSD Card). I don't like the Sony SIM Card Trays - they feel plasticky and floppy - I'm not even sure about the no-tool thing any longer. Up the top is a 3.5mm audio-out socket and sticking out slightly on the back (hidden by TPU) is the long and thin camera island. The front top and bottom edges house the (now incredibly rare) front-facing stereo speakers, one at each end. The bottom (right channel) is longer than the one up the top but we'll come to sound later.

The screen is an OLED panel and 6.5" with 1644 x 3840 pixels (which most of the time runs at 1096 x 2560). This is of course the now standard Sony 21:9 ratio returning 643ppi and can be thought of as 1080p most of the time lifting to 1440p for certain use-cases. There's a switch in settings to lift the refresh rate from 60Hz to 120Hz for those who need it for their applications/games or those who can genuinely tell the difference and/or don't care about any subsequent battery hit.

As you would expect, much like the 5ii the screen is bright and vibrant, colourful with deep blacks - a gorgeous panel which I had no difficulty using outside even in bright sunshine. This seems to have apparently improved since the 1ii, which many found to be less than useful when ambient light levels were high. There are the same white balance controls, Creator Mode colour gamut and contrast tech which I've covered before (see links above) in settings. Bottom line is that the flat panel seems all-but faultless to me.

Some will not like the fact that there are black bars top and bottom housing the speakers and Selfie camera along with other sensors, but I actually prefer this than the screen going out to all the edges, all the time. It's somewhere to swipe from using Gesture Navigation and with the tall 21:9 aspect it really doesn't matter. It's not going to eat into anything much that you're likely to want to view on the screen, including (obviously) 21:9 cinema releases! The only argument might be that the overall footprint of the phone could have been less tall.

So that's the physical done, I'll now get into my comparison with the Motorola Edge+ as promised. I love my using my Edge+ for many reasons and yes, there's more than a year between these releases, but I found myself comparing them anyway. They are both £1000+ flagships (on release) and, as I said, have a similar 'form'. The Sony, as we'll see, outguns the Moto in most areas technically, but I'm here for a real-world use consideration and intend to see how close or far apart they are - and which I'd rather have as my device of choice.

The starting point is probably the front screen. The Sony of course has a completely flat panel whereas the Moto has the outrageous waterfall edges around left and right. Which do we prefer, is the question. They both have pros and cons, some of which is usability and some look/feel. When the fingers slide over the edges of the Moto, the reaction is one of admiration here. How classy it feels, how premium, smooth as silk. But there's also vulnerability. This unit has already been repaired by Moto for a faulty screen component - with a flat screen you don't have that physical vulnerability, laying aside any manufacturing faults. This is going to be a subjective one, like much of the following. My head tells me that a flat screen is a much more sensible option but then I pick up the Moto and sigh!

Both devices are updated with the latest Android OS, being 11, though I certainly have more confidence going forward that Sony will keep their unit up to date more regularly and sooner than Moto will. Moto have a poor reputation here, which they need to fix. Writing at the end of August 2021, the Sony has August '21 Google Security and the Moto, June '21 - which is reflective of the point. Moto tend to get into this 'quarterly' (if you're lucky) update cycle whereas Sony, for Security updates, tends to update at least before the end of 'current month'. Still, we geeks seem to put too much emphasis on being bang-up-to-date apparently! I also have more confidence that Sony will push out Android 12 long before Moto does - and of course 12 is the end of the line with the Edge+ (when it arrives) for OS updates, whereas Sony are supporting their phones in this respect longer.

Both devices have 256GB of storage and 12GB RAM. Both fly with any task thrown at them. Copying data and switching tasks, leaving stuff open in the background - it's all near-faultless and the two phones get a draw on this. Where the Sony wins however, is that it has a microSD Card option, playing nicely with my 512GB card here. The Edge had a card slot, but not the Edge+ sadly. Still, 256GB is a substantial amount onboard.

Another draw is present between the chipsets, Sony with a Snapdragon 888 5G (5nm) and the Edge+ Snapdragon 865 5G (7nm) on the same basis as the above really. I can't see any difference between them in any action, process or execution. We did run a Geekbench 5 test on the two and the overall results placed the Sony above the Moto, but it really wasn't by much. So yes, both blazingly fast for everyone!

I have been surprised by the speaker output with the Edge+ over the months. I don't know if they've tweaked it in updates, but it sounds even better now than it did on arrival. The test though here is less about volume but more about tone, bass and equalisation. Next to each other, the sound is firing from the front (totally) with the Sony and front/top-bottom with the Moto. But this doesn't seem to make any difference really, beyond fingers blocking grilles. The sound output is fine on both and stereo separation good. No equalisation used, 3rd party Music App used, the Sony is very, very slightly louder than the Moto, but the Moto wins on quality. The Sony sounds just a little bit uncomfortable/stretched at top volume whereas the Moto is very happy.

Playing with equalisation via both phones' built-in tools, 'Audio Effects' for Moto and Dolby for Sony, the sound can be further advanced, but again, the Moto seems more tolerant. Effects can be more usefully added and adjusted at higher volumes overall. This is nit-picking though as the sound from both phones is excellent and my difficulty in criticising here reflects how close they are. One annoyance is how far the Dolby controls are from the user on the Sony. There's no quick-route to it - it takes FOUR screen-taps to get there via Settings. All they need is what the 5ii had - a shortcut in the drop-down status area - but they seem to have taken it away! Bizarre.

The Sony does, however, have Dynamic Vibration to add to the mix if desired. This uses a large vibration motor hooked up to the sound output (via speakers or headphones) to 'pulse' to the music on the beats, intelligently, through the phone's body. It's ahead here because it's a fabulous effect which I use all the time. It may be psychological but it 'feels like' it adds some depth and bass when it's pulsating through the hands in time with the beat or some explosion in a video.

Again, both phones have a 3.5mm audio-out socket which works perfectly well. I shall have to nit-pick here again when it comes to wired, as I do believe that even though there's no official enhanced audio on the Moto as there is with the Sony (24-bit) they both sound fabulous with wired 'phones. Very slightly louder sound from the Sony, I guess, but both as bass-orientated as each other. Net result again is that they're very close. It is possible that Moto have some sort of enhanced audio through the 3.5mm but just haven't documented it - they do that sometimes, like not mentioning waterproofing! Switching to Bluetooth brings very similar results. Turning the volume as high as my ears can stand, there really isn't much between them. Both stunningly good quality. Moto made a largely unspecified fuss about audio when releasing the Edge+ in 2020 and it really is very good. In top quality company here, it holds its head up high even if we don't know about the components exactly.

There are lots of differences between the camera hard/software here and I'm going to do the usual thing here by pointing you to Steve's review of the Sony in The Phones Show 427 where he shares his conclusions on the performance and results. What I would add to that is that the Sony provides the user with the fabulous two-stage shutter button (fabulous for confirming focus) in hardware and also the Photographer Pro and Cinema Pro apps. I have come from a background of using 'proper' cameras and this is as close as you can get with a phone just now. If I owned the Sony I would spend weeks-into-months getting to know the controls, limitations and capabilities which could be had from this fabulous interface - and only rue that I can't (yet) control the aperture. But I guess we just haven't got there yet in phones! Anyway, deep-dive into Steve's video for more.

The thoughts of Steve and myself on the Edge+ for photography can be read towards the end of my Motorola Edge+ Review but Steve's conclusion was "Having looked through Ted's sample photos, there are no major horrors in terms of image processing. Which is good. The optics don't seem flagship level, as in competing with the Samsung and iPhone flagships, but the whole camera package seems well thought out. The Edge+ is flexible, with 3x optical zoom and [other] options, and with AF on the wide angle, [so] fine for everyday photos of a variety of subjects." So yes, in fairness, probably a bit of a different ballpark in terms of cameras/photography and Sony certainly gets the win here.

Ready For
is Moto's shot at Samsung's DeX. I've written all about that in the aforementioned review but just to note that HDMI-Out (via cable of course) is something that phone manufacturers don't seem to be bothering to include these days, with everything wireless and cloud-based etc. So it was refreshing to see that Sony, even if they don't have a Ready For/DeX type interface and capability going here on the 1iii, they do retain the HDMI-Out. This means that the phone's screen can be mirrored and sent to any TV or monitor with an HDMI-In socket, armed with a cable. It is certainly useful when watching media on a TV, laying aside any fancy software to use the phone's power as a pocket computer projected and connected. So good for Sony, but I guess Moto get the up-vote here for taking it a step further with Ready For.

The side-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner gets Sony this vote as it's faultless. Works every single time, no question. It's quick to set up and well, just perfect! The only argument against it could be, by some, that it's on the side and is a thin target, so might be better on the back. But that's again subjective. What it is, however, is much better as a solution than Moto's under-glass optical version. It's not that it doesn't work - it does. And the hit-rate is very good indeed, but it's not perfect. And the Sony solution all-but, is. More about the Moto's version in my review again. Moto wins back a point here for including Face Unlock, which is simply not present as a security option on the Sony.

The battery in the Edge+ is 5,000mAh and the Sony, 4,500mAh. The longevity is better with the Moto. It lasts and lasts and lasts for days with my average use. This is all based on personal variables of course, so YMMV depending on how you use your phones. But yes, a Moto win. There's not much danger of the Sony not getting through a day (with my average use) but it's nowhere near as good as the Edge+ power. Start playing around with all that high-res video and Pro-level camera/photography stuff and it'll get worse of course. But unlike the 5iii, the 1iii continues the 1-series trend of having Qi Charging - so a draw here again, as both have this (reverse as well) and both do this conveniently and (we think - see Steve's video) the same 15W power/speed. So yes, top-up as you go and no fiddle-farting about with cables! If you do want to use a cable, however, the Sony edges ahead again with 30W over 18W on the Moto.

Connectivity with both phones seems to be faultless, be it cellular at 4G (sorry, can't test 5G), WiFi 6, NFC, Bluetooth or GPS. Signals are strong, locked quickly by apps and held onto. I tested phone calls and data with both phones, much longer-term with the Moto of course, and all parties and/or services reported loud and good interactions.

This mainly leaves us with the software experience, UX and UI. Moto keep things very clean and close to Vanilla Android. They add some of their own (hopefully useful) tweaks and gestures, wrapped into a single App pre-installed. There's no bloat, no additionally installed apps, no trials and certainly no huge games! Sorry, Sony, but it's bad form to pre-install Call of Duty and Asphalt 9 and to make matters worse, set to auto-install 5GB of data when the Play Store Updates are invoked. For those who don't know better, this will just go on in the background. There's also a Game Enhancer app, LinkedIn, TIDAL, Facebook and Sony's Music app (I'll let them have that one as it is genuinely useful) and more! I just don't understand why, when paying £1,200 for a phone they need to add these items. If it were a £159 Poco, I get it. No problem. But for shed-loads of cash, I would expect a clean software experience and to add what I want to add! Winning point for Moto here.

Sony call it Side Sense, Moto call it Edge Touch. They both have one and the associated controls to make it customised. It's very much like Samsung's Edge Panel and allows the user to invoke (by various means) a 'panel' of assignable options, apps, quick launches, quick dials, pretty much whatever you like. I've never used these much personally, but yes, I guess it's nice to have an option. Moto's is a bit more useful in that you can assign a button to allow (supported) apps to wrap around the waterfall edge. Sony version is slightly impaired for tapping to invoke by a TPU case for quick access, depending on the case of course. The Edge+ also plays around with Edge Lighting and 'shoulder controls' for gaming, making the best use of those curves. More in my review linked to above on that.

Home screen settings are clean on both, though limited options on both compared to many other phones. But that's good. Again, clean. Moto does add a range of 'styles' for icons, text etc. which Sony used to do but appear to have dropped now. Probably a moot point anyway as it looks like Google might force everyone away from it in Android 12 - we shall see! Google Feed to the left on both, as an option, and Sony offers a Pixel-like Search box option for the homepage via Home settings whereas the Moto does not except via Widgets. Niggles might include a maximum 10 minute screen stay-on time for Sony instead of the 'standard' 30 minutes which the Edge+ allows, stock-Android flavour.

The Always on Display nudges Sony ahead of the Moto again here because as fabulous as the Moto Approach/Peek system is, there is no option to set it for (truly) always-on. You must wave/tap to invoke it. Sony's however does give you that option and it works excellently well, with one caveat. When lifting the phone from the AoD screen, nothing happens. You have to double-tap it. With the Moto (and many others), the nudge/lift gives you the lock-screen with any notifications etc. Laying that aside, I love the way in which the Sony echoes the AlbumArt of last played audio. It really works well and further instils the historic notion of Walkman. Oh, and I forgot to mention that there's a Notification LED on the Sony! Good old-fashioned values indeed.

I'm sure that there are gaps in all the above, but hopefully they are covered by what I have reviewed directly previously and/or covered by Steve in his reviews - all linked to extensively throughout, above.

The question is, which would I use as my main phone, right now, if they both belonged to me. As you can see from the above, it's in many ways a close-call even though technically the Sony's hardware is ahead of Moto's. I do admit to having a large soft-spot for Motorola devices, but those who know me will also tell you the same about Sony! I love Sony gear, always have. It usually feels, looks and behaves in a classy, premium way. There are exceptions of course, like cheap plastic radio units, but generally, there has been a pedestal for Sony gear.

There are pros and cons on both sides. I value very highly the sound produced by speakers which slightly leans me back to the Edge+ but then I'm drawn back to the Sony by the classy way in which the sound arrangements are implemented, especially with Dynamic Vibration. There are little things like the Notification LED, Always on Display and confidence going forward with software updates. Then there's the cleaner version of Android and no clutter from the Edge+ along with that gorgeous, curved screen that I only have to touch and hold to sway me back!

You will have got the message by now that I'm completely torn on the matter. I want both! Price is a factor, of course. The Edge+ can now be found for about £600 if you look around (as it is last year's model and was never officially a UK release) and the Sony is £1,200. That's a lot of money, which is a serious investment. Is the Sony worth twice the cost of the Edge+? No. But maybe it's better to think about that in terms of release-price, being £1,049 back in 2020. So, the verdict - if I had to choose for here and now, I'd go for the Sony. But I'd sure miss the Moto!

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Nokia XR20

A while back, I got in a Nokia 800 Tough. A rugged phone from HMD running KaiOS. It's tough (as the name may suggest) and good for banging in nails with, but it wasn't mainstream Android. The XR20 is much the same rugged/tough body but yes, with proper Android - and even AndroidOne, with promises of updates and even replacement screens going forward. Is it worth the spend, I wondered. Let's find out.

One of the big concerns here was the chipset, being a SnapDragon 480. Seriously? A 400-series SoC? My mind went back to the now woefully inadequate Marshall London and various low-end Moto devices over the last few years, pushed out with a small budget in mind. Hold on though - as our good friend Mike Warner who knows about these things has looked into this modern incarnation of the SD4xx series and declares that things are not how they used to be and we can expect a much better performance now from this 5G-enabled version.

We'll come to all that, but first the device itself. It comes in a box with not much else really. Not even a charger! A cable and some papers with a promise of some sort of charitable donation from the firm for each unit sold to ClearRivers who keep plastics out of the oceans and encourage the buyer to get some trees planted post-purchase, on Nokia. It's not a cheap phone, but we'll see if the £449 (128GB/6GB) and £399 (64GB/4GB) is justified as we go forward here.

The phone is huge! It has a 6.67" screen but because of the thick rubber, IP6/8 and MIL-STD-810H armoury it's even bigger than the other hoards of 6.67" screened phones coming out of China with regular monotony! There's an aluminium chassis and Gorilla Glass Victus (the best there is just now, outside Apple's Ceramic Shield, also used on the top-end Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra) adding to the 'drop-to-concrete from 1.8m' coating along with 3-D NanoTextured back! All this adds up to a big and heavy device, weighing in at 248g. It's one of the heaviest phones I ever handled!

So you can drop it from great heights, chuck it in the (plastic-free) ocean, kick it around, use it as a football (as various promo videos have shown) and just generally abuse it as much as you like. The company further claims that in the first year of ownership if you break the front glass they will replace if for free! Wow! And actually, handling the phone you do get the impression that they're not kidding. Hammer nails, like the 800 Tough could! There's even a lanyard hole on the corner for those who wish to add a carry-strap!

The back of the phone is plastic, this 3-D texture thingie. It's supposed to be 'grippy' and whilst it certainly is more 'grippy' than your average glass (or plastic) back, it's not anywhere near as slip-free as a simple TPU case. Now, you wouldn't want to put a TPU case on this - for one thing, it would make it even bigger! But also, why worry! If it slips and you drop it, pick it up, repair the damage to whatever it hit(!), any carry on. A virtual guarantee of no damage. There are limits of course, one of which might be 70mph out the window, dropped on the M1. I'm guessing it wouldn't survive that - but who knows!

There's a big NOKIA in the middle of the back and a square camera island with two lenses and two LED flashes. I'll come back to that. The island is about 80% of the way up the back and central, covering the middle third of the width. At the bottom, there a USB-C socket, one of the two stereo speakers, microphone, 3.5mm audio-out socket and even a lanyard loop-hole! At the top, there's the SIM Card Tray and a red button which I'll come to, on the left is a sizeable, knurled, dedicated Google Assistant button (which can't be assigned to anything else - just on or off) and on the right, a volume rocker and capacitive fingerprint scanner doubled-up as a power button.

The edges are tough rubbery/plastic stuff round the top, bottom and corners, breaking into aluminium down both sides where mostly the buttons are housed. The buttons on the right feel like they are solid, industrial quality, but not so much the Assistant button on the other side, which feels like it has a tiny bit of play when encouragingly wiggled. Laying that aside, the whole phone feels very much what it is - a military-finish, industrial-grade brick!

The red button on the top can be assigned to (pretty much) what you like in terms of functionality for short-press and long-press - apps or functions, there's a big list. I have the short press assigned to music play/pause and long-press to torch. The play/pause works excellently well with all the four music players I've tried it with - even hours later, just picks up from where you paused - and the torch turns on based on the previously-used settings assignable in the drop-down Notification Tray shortcut.

If you long-press the Torch shortcut you get a picture of a torch with three settings of brightness. First button gives you one LED on, second gives you both and third, puts both of them on full-power. And it's blindingly bright! Don't look straight at it! There's also an SOS setting there too which, when tapped starts firing out a dot-dot-dot/dash-dash-dash etc. and appears to keep going while the phone still has power. You get the feeling that if you were stuck somewhere on a raft in the Atlantic, this would be genuinely useful as it's so bright.

The SIM Card Tray has space for two SIM 5G Nano Cards or one and a microSD Memory Card in the usual Hybrid way. Both SIM Cards can be used for 5G and both for data. It has the usual pokey-hole to get it out and it is, of course, rubber-sealed against the elements. The Assistant button does nothing more than any other way of invoking the Google Assistant, so take your pick - or turn it off, as I say. To be fair, in the few days I've been handling the phone I've not once pressed it by mistake, so probably fairly safe to leave on.

The capacitive fingerprint scanner is quick to set up and 100% accurate in use - first time/every time. You can assign the usual total 5 fingers to it but clearly the most useful are right thumb and index finger. Third finger of the left hand is also useful when stretching round the back, but to be honest, by the time you've done any of this, the face unlock has kicked in and works similarly perfectly well - maybe a bit too well as it worked today when I purposely covered my mouth and nose. It's quick to set up though, even with my beard! The power button works like you'd expect, firing up the lock-screen with options in settings to allow payment cards, connected equipment controls and so forth.

Handling is the biggest issue here. I do realise that it's all the trend to have bigger phones, but this really is bigger than pretty much all of them out there just now, certainly new and available. The screen is 6.67", then it has (what we consider to be in 2021) thick bezels - and then there's the rubber housing! There's no way I can get even close to meeting my thumb and index finger around the waist of the phone - this is a two-handed phone, most of the time. There's not even a quick-shrink option from Nokia as a one-handed mode here (outside of the usual gBoard option) that I can find in order to help with that!

As for me, those who follow my musings will know that I much prefer a smaller phone and being able to get everywhere on the screen one-handed - but hold on! Maybe I'm coming round! The few days that I've had this phone so far have shown me that maybe these things are not always about size - but also balance in-hand. The XR20, maybe because it is so thick and heavy, does indeed feel balanced in the hand and I am beginning to find that I'm OK with it. Honeymoon period, for sure, but usually I'd have given up by now on phones this size and be keen to polish off the review!

Another reason why I've not chucked in the towel is because of my love of the AndroidOne programme. HMD promise that this phone, arriving with Android 11, will get updated to 12, 13 and 14! That's the Google OS releases over three years ending with Android 14 for (period of currency) to autumn 2024 - and on top of that, four years of Security Updates, so to summer 2025. Good stuff indeed as these guys (and other Android phone manufacturers) try to get as good as Apple going forward. Who's to say that by then it might not be pushed even further. There is the reality of ageing hardware of course and the Snapdragon 480 SoC might feel very old by then anyway. I'll come to that shortly.

AndroidOne is a very clean implementation of Android which makes it feel very much like a Pixel experience. I was surprised to find three added third-party bloat apps on the phone during setup however, which is very much not like the AndroidOne I have experienced up to now and clearly HMD trying to make a fast buck. Fortunately, all three can be readily uninstalled for those of us who know what we're doing. Spotify, Amazon and ExpressVPN. Shame the party was spoiled a bit with that, but never mind. It's back to clean in a jiffy! The downside of AndroidOne is that you get very limited useful add-ons which others can enjoy such as Motorola's three-finger screenshot or Approach/Peek - or even the bells and whistles of a DeX from Samsung. It all feels a bit like they can do this if they want to, however, as Samsung offer similar levels of ongoing updates and support now - and also have all those extras. Depth of resources is key, to a large degree - HMD Global/Nokia having nothing like that of mighty Samsung, Xiaomi or Apple.

It's clean enough though. And Nokia have indeed slipped in a few of their own pearls, like the aforementioned torch for example - and even an Always on Display! I was surprised to see that even though others have done this with LCD screens (even Nokia have dabbled), it's mostly an OLED thing. The downside of this is that all of the screen is always on. So in a dark room, you can see the whole of the screen in grey around the clock/date and notifications. Which also means that the battery is given a hit it doesn't need. This is why you can turn it off in Settings if you prefer. I'd like to have seen a 'timed' option with this so it could be disabled automatically at night. Maybe Tasker or Action Blocks would sort this.

Double-tap to wake phone is available, lift to check and wake on incoming notifications also, so choices for all. AoD is pretty similar to the Nokia 9 PureView's in that it has digital clock, day, date and month then Notification icons below. Down the bottom of the screen there's a battery remaining percentage readout. If you invoke the options in the Google Assistant it will also show Android 12 style clock, notifications and display when it's charging - with two big numbers for minutes over two more for hour - all feels very Material You! So, unlike the otherwise great Moto Approach/Peek, you can see the time from across the room!

The LCD panel is 1080p and 20:9 ratio which returns 395ppi. It has a fixed 60Hz refresh-rate, which is fine with me - but notable that the likes of Realme and others are now almost standardising on not even 90Hz but 120! So I guess this isn't great for those with young eyes or gamers who can notice the difference. Better news is that it is capable of 550nits of brightness apparently and sure enough, to my eyes, when wound up on the slider, it looks more like an OLED for brightness and saturated bright colours than LCD. Remember the Nokia 8? Very similar. They're clearly getting better. You can also, if you like, adjust the colour temperature for warmth or cooling, but I think I prefer it at the default in the middle. As I said before, it's protected with Gorilla Glass Victus which will certainly help with breakage if not scratching - we shall see!

There's a selfie hole-punch lens at the top-centre of the screen which, yes, gets into eyeline when utilising the whole screen for watching a film, for example, but as usual with these things, the brain removes it after a while. There's an Enhanced Touch Sensitivity option which means that you can use it with gloves or when wet and so forth. I've tested this on/off with various gloves and materials and it does indeed make a difference - turn it off and gloved fingers struggle, on and it's fine. Maybe another reason why this screen couldn't be an OLED. Don't know. Otherwise, the screen is fine. Big, bright and colourful - as long as you're OK with the huge size!

The SnapDragon 480 5G (8nm) chipset which I referred to earlier does indeed seem to work pretty well generally. I have found some slowdown here and there when copying large lumps of data around and accessing some Settings searches, oddly. The 'on the fly' searching in Settings is dog-slow to keep up and refresh, whereas inside Chrome, for example, it's all very fast. So this could be bugs and optimisations which Nokia will fix with updates, rather than a slur on the chipset. Start running CPU Benchmark tests and results indicate that although a better performer than I thought it might be, this is no flagship.

The 128GB version here has 6GB RAM (the 64GB unit only has 4GB RAM) and switching between tasks presents no problems that I can see for normal day-to-day use. The internal storage seems fast enough on read/writes for all normal purposes for most people, the slowdown I refer to above is more about copying data from a computer or supposedly fast SSD, inside apps and so forth. There's also a microSD Card slot (taking up one of the nanoSIM slots) for those who want it and it's playing nicely here with my 512GB microSD Card. Plugging in a 2TB SSD to the USB-C socket (3.0) also presents no problem, except that slower performance in terms of copying data.

The phone's speakers are supposed to be very loud, 96dB is quoted by Nokia. Well, they are indeed loud compared to most phones I've tried, though I'm not sure that they reach 96dB. I suppose they must have tested this in perfect conditions to come up with the figure. My tests here indicate 89dB and the next-best (loudest) phone I have to hand here (Motorola Edge+) under the same conditions reaches 86dB. So, I don't know. It would be interesting to see how they test this! Of more concern though is the quality - as loud as they may (or may not) be, there's no control of the quality of output - so the 'loud' is tinny-loud. It needs more bass and the treble toning down. Of course, this can be done inside music apps (to good effect) but with no system-wide Dolby Atmos (or similar) you've lost that facility in, say, YouTube or any other service/app which doesn't offer equalisation. I think I was hoping for better here.

UpdateSteve Litchfield has found the speakers to be 'proper' stereo. There is a bug with the stereo which resulted in the 'Dual' switch to turn itself off randomly during the review period, which no doubt Nokia will fix. The speakers are the usual 'faux' stereo as Steve dubs it, as far as I can tell. If I block the bottom-firing speaker, the top ear-piece one output doesn't sound so rich and vice-versa.
As usual though I find that the overall experience is fairly well balanced and when the phone is 18" in front of the head, the balance of stereo seems fine and stage wide enough. The speakers don't switch round when the phone is turned, so the bottom-firing is always the right and ear-piece left. Which puts the volume controls on the top, so I guess it makes sense.

We do have a 3.5mm audio-out socket at the bottom of the phone and I've been testing here with a couple of pairs of reference and studio headphones. The output via headphones is not particularly loud (100% is fine for me but others would want 150% I reckon!) but there is a decent hike in quality over the speakers' output as we'd expect. Switch that to bluetooth headphones, testing here with the Sony set, and again as we'd expect, the quality and volume is much better, louder and of super quality. It's hard to fault bluetooth these days, here offering v5.1. Sony WH-1000XM4Sony MDR-7506/1, AKG K701.

The main camera is a 48MP f/1.8 unit supported by a 13MP f/2.4 (wide-angle) and an 8MP f/2 Selfie round the front. As usual, I'll pass you onto our resident pixel-peeper Steve Litchfield in the coming weeks who will get hands-on with this phone sometime in the coming weeks and come up with some thoughts. But as much as I'm not into digital photography from phones, I'm fairly sure that the outcome will be close to a 'yawn fest' as the camera interface is pretty boring and options dull. I sent over a few snaps to Steve who concluded on initial viewing that "they're not terrible". Which probably says a lot! However, for me and the 95% of people not expecting dSLR performance from a camera in a phone, the results are perfectly good enough for what the 95% will (want to) do with them.

One issue with the camera, which I'm assuming is a bug, is that if the camera app is not already in RAM, the first tap on the launcher icon opens up the app then immediately kills it! Tap it a second time, and it stays open. It must be some RAM allocation thing I guess and I would be confident that they will fix it in software.

Video shooting can be switched into 'Cinema' mode, which forces a full-width (1920 x 822) recording at 24fps and gives a bunch of manual controls. We're not talking Sony Photo Pro app here, but it seems to offer a bunch of options, including the OZO 'wind noise reduction' (not that it seems to make much difference) and various movie-centric 'filters'. The ordinary 'video' mode offers the OZO as well but not the manual controls.

There are some funky effects in the Portrait mode, some of which seem actually useful rather than designed to titillate the average young teen and their schoolfriends! Night mode does a reasonable job of processing images in dark corners if you hold still long enough for the capture and accept the noisy outcome and then there's a bunch of other shooting modes under a 'more' button including a Pro mode with those manual controls again. Close-focus is pretty poor compared to most that I've tried in recent times. There's a 'dual' mode to shoot from both cameras at the same time (with sliding partition), SpeedWarp which seems to be a speeded up version of TimeLapse (which is also present), Action to prioritise faster shutter speeds, presumably, panorama and slow-mo. Not very exciting, but maybe Steve will play with some of them - and test the OZO more thoroughly.

The phone has Qi Charging which it can execute at 15W with the appropriate charger, otherwise it's 18W by cable - if you buy one! They figure that people already have them (and haven't sold them on with their last phone)! The Qi Charging works well, after an initial blip where it seemed to 'stall' and I was waking up in the morning to a phone only charged to 90% or so. We did think that this was the phone being 'dumb' and not switching between top-up and charge, once charged to 100% at, say 2am. But on further testing, this seems to have stopped and the last couple of days it has been on 100% so maybe that's a mystery! Charging with 15W or 18W is fast enough for me and will protect the life of the battery, which users will be hoping will see them through the 4 year support/update time (at least) so a good idea to look after it by not charging routinely at/in silly-fast speeds/times.

The battery capacity is 4,630mAh, so certainly big enough for two days of average use (for me) here in my testing. The LCD screen and less-powerful chipset will of course help that and frequent top-ups where you can to assist too. I've run my usual 10% Reading Test and consistently get about 2 hours, from 100% down or starting halfway down the scale. Not terribly clinical, but I do have a level playing field for that test and have done for many years. Two hours is very good for 10% and in keeping with the expectation on size of battery.

Connectivity is good in all respects. Bluetooth range seems decent, WiFi (the phone has WiFi 6, incidentally) connectivity is strong and fast, NFC sees other gear well but I have not been able to test Google Pay at this time (though am assured from others that it works), GPS too - seems to lock on well to location quickly when using various services and apps and cellular (on 4G - sorry, can't test 5G) seems solid as I test with data and voice-calls. Sounding good at this end and that, clear and strong.

This is a great (and I mean BIG) phone, heavy, solid, built like a brick. It feels like it's a little overpriced, though Nokia UK are currently knocking £50 off. The corners have been cut with the chipset and the LCD screen, but the money has been spent on all that ruggedising stuff, certification for IP/MIL etc., ongoing support to gain the confidence of purchasers of OS/Security updates well into the coming years, louder-than-most stereo speakers, additions in keeping with the building site/adventurer/sportsperson like the bright, bright torch and that red assignable button. Glove-use and never being short of a hammer - or fearing a fall. They have insured against the Vectus screen breaking too - yes, this is where the cost has gone and when you drill down into that (not the phone - you couldn't!) perhaps the pricing equation is better than it first seems.

There's a lot of phone here, it has a pleasingly clean version of Android and even still AndroidOne, as close to the beating heart of Google you can get without a Pixel. I like it a lot and even though it may not always have my main SIM Card in it, I intend to keep it now that I have it to see how it ages - and to hold Nokia to their ongoing promise of support and insurance! I would recommend it to the right buyer, but you'd have to value the attributes for what they are - and not expect a flagship, curvy, sleek, jewellery-centric object of fashion and desire!

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Kindred (2020)

Nothing much to get excited about here. It's a real run-of-the-mill little mystery/thriller thing which I would have expected to see in 3 parts on terrestrial TV to be honest. Don't get me wrong, it's OK and (at least) two of the three leads do a decent enough job.

Fiona Shaw carries it with good and sinister support from Jack Lowden. There's one monologue in the middle of the film where she sits for an extraordinary amount of time with the camera focused on her as she tells the tale of some of the background - worth seeing alone.

Right, so there's a couple. Rich kid meets poor girl. Madly in love. Rich kid hates his rich family, the family home and all the expected behaviours demanded of him by his mother within this monied, posh background and backdrop in rural England. Most of the film is shot inside the huge family home.

The couple decide to get away from all these trappings and move to Australia. His mother is distraught. Especially when she discovers that poor girl is pregnant and rich kid gets killed! It leaves poor girl at the mercy of the family. Mother and step-son taking care of her to make sure that rich kid's child continues the family name etc. Hence the title.

Things take a slightly sinister turn as the details of the background of the husband, the step-son and poor girl herself start to come out and we are given insight into what lengths the family will go to, to ensure the child is safe and nothing goes wrong with the pregnancy.

There are a few turns in the proceedings (not strong enough to be called twists) and a story evolves which uncovers some sinister dealings and stuff from the past. It could have been a stage play really. In fact, it might end up being I guess as the setting is pretty insular.

It's slow-paced but well acted. It's quite thoughtfully shot, but it's not in any way gripping. Standard TV thriller stuff, as I say. It's available via NowTV/SkyTV or DVD if you really must! I should wait 'til it comes to the Beeb - which I'm sure it will. Just up their street!

Sunday, 1 August 2021

PodHub UK Podcasts for the Month of July 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
Episode 646 - Drones and Phones
Saturday 3rd July
Steve Litchfield and I are back again this weekend with another roundup of all things mobile phone. This time we welcome Ian Barton to the show who gives us a rundown of his tech history and how he makes a Chromebook work so well for him alongside his phones.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 4th July
Another Epic weekend meander from Gareth and I! Black Screen of Death in Windows 11, Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 price, Fitbit smart rings and Xiaomi Mi Mix 4 rumbles. It's all here and more!

The Phones Show
Thursday 8th July
Join Steve over on his YouTube Channel as he digs through the options and tries to come up with an answer. More chat about this topic on PSC at the weekend, no doubt.

Whatever Works
Episode 141 - Back in Your Cage!
Friday 9th July
Aidan and I return after a long fortnight (in which everyone else but us seem to have been enthused about sport) with a tidy little look at Whatever Works in our lives and in the lives of the Group members here. Light up your life with the moon or a lamp, press a sandwich, fly around the lawn or just make your toilet cleaner and more comfy!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 10th July
Steve and I are back this weekend and joined for a while by the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones. He gives us an overview of what gear her uses, what it's like to work as a high-profile journalist/presenter and how he fits this all in with his health difficulties.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Gareth and I are here again with another weekend roundup of what's caught our eye in the world of tech this week. Drones in phones and Android in Cameras? To N-Gage with Naughty OnePlus is enough to make Alexa swear! 

Phones Show Chat
Episode 648 - OnePlus 9 Equals 10, Duh!
Saturday 17th July
Steve and I are here with a just-the-two-of-us catch-up on all things mobile phone this week. Plenty to chat about including the latest on Android 12 Beta 3, my thoughts on the OnePlus 9 and Steve's Sony/Samsung comparison. All good stuff, so do join us!

Whatever Works
Episode 142 - Vibrating Pumps!
Wednesday 21st July
Aidan Bell and I return in the sweltering heat to bring you an hour or so of mayhem as we consider Whatever Works for us and you! Plenty of claptrap as usual including The Grand Toilet Roll Debate(!), the perfect hand-held (ooerr!), the puff loofah and a (non vibrating) pump or two!

The Phones Show
Episode 425 - Chasing the Hardware
Friday 23rd July
Steve is here with his thoughts on hardware and how important (or not) supporting OS has become (for him)! Confused? Check it out over at his YouTube Channel.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 649 - Laggy Ultra!
Saturday 24th July
Steve and I are are back with another roundup of all things mobile phone and this weekend welcome back Tayo Olasope as we catch up with him, what he's using and grab his thoughts on software, hardware, new and old!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Gareth and I are back after our summer break with a bumper crop of tech twaddle. Why not join us as we chuck Steam into a Stream, keep our Barracuda away from our Yamaha, get all Rugged with Panny and have a two-way radio call with Windows in the Cloud!

Projector Room
Episode 92 - Subway Hunter
Wednesday 28th July
We're back! And with a feature-packed show in which Gareth, Allan and I consider all things film, cinema and TV. This time we get on track with a trains theme, see both sides in Flop of the Fortnight, get a taste of what to look forward to and say goodbye to too many folk who have given so much.

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 31st July
Steve and I are back this weekend as we welcome Marton Barcza of TechAltar to join us once again. Loads of interesting debate and thoughts on the world of mobile phone ensue of course.


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

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...