Friday, 23 December 2022

Smile (2022)

It's a thriller/chiller spook-fest, verging on horror! This is a fairly decent film by relative newbie Parker Finn which tries to make the most of an unexplained 'entity' doing the rounds passing itself along between people as they die. It's nothing particularly new but it's been done here pretty well.

An unfeasibly young psychiatric doctor in a hospital, Rose, stops in to help a patient who is having apparent paranoid delusions and is very distressed. Rose tries to talk her down but things go from bad to worse and the patient kills herself in front of her. Following this incident, Rose starts to get apparent delusions and hallucinations herself and it starts to ruin her life as it takes grip.

Those around her, sister, fiance, previous boyfriend, therapist and boss, all start to get very concerned about Rose as her behaviour and control go out the window. She tries really hard to hold it together but at the same time, to uncover what on earth is going on with her. It just so happens that her ex-boyfriend is a copper and can help her to research this, looking into a imeline of similar incidents from the patient in question above, backwards.

Rose and her sister also have a troubled past as their mother committed suicide when they were kids and the pair of them have carried various emotions following that throughout most of their lives, explaining the therapist. She starts to unravel what's going on in a (what she has discovered now to be) race against the clock to get stuff sorted before it all really goes pear-shaped!

The whole thing is, of course, the stuff of supernatural fantasy 'evil'  if happening at all, and she'll only work it out and release herself from the trauma and situation she's apparently in by facing it head-on, making for the usual kind of finale/showdown - in a deserted cabin in the woods with no electricity. You get the idea!

Sosie Bacon (Mare of Easttown) plays the lead pretty well. The downward spiral her character finds herself in, chaos and collapse, away from her generally well-ordered, stable life is reflected well by the actress. The supporting cast are decent enough, but it's Bacon who shines out. Oh, and just before any killing happens, the person/victim pulls a broad grin across their face - hence the title!

There are a number of silly jump-scare moments which really are not needed. Just silly. There's enough spooky imagery and unsettling visuals for the director not to have had to rely on that. He needs to take a look at Scandinavian film/TV to see how that's done beautifully without the cheap stuff. There are various special effects which come off well, nicely pulled together with haunting music leading the viewer into the sinister scenes. (And then of course stopping dead just before a jump-scare. It's so transparent. Why do they bother!)

Anyway, laying that aside, it's a good enough outing but I would wait until the price drops to view it (unless you have lots of Google Play tokens or equivalent to use) and not pay full price just now. For fans of horror, it's a good fun outing which they'll enjoy.

Saturday, 17 December 2022

Don't Worry Darling (2022)

Don't Worry Darling is a strange film, directed by actress-becoming-director Olivia Wilde about a 
housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community in 1950s America. It's a community which has odd secrets to reveal, which it does in the end, a vision for something new and a bunch of unfeasibly contented residents.

It plays out like a scene from Little Shop of Horrors as Audrey dreams about her idyllic lifestyle, the quaint community around Edward in Edward Scissorhands, or Lester and Carolyn in American Beauty. Lush green grass, sparkling new cars, bright colours, perfectly clean houses with everyone getting along with everyone else as close friends.

Frank has created this community (The Victory Project) with his wife Shelley and everyone is tight-lipped about the work that the men go off to do every morning, en masse, waved goodbye to by the wives - who then contentedly go about their social daytime activities and preparing for their husbands to return in the evening. Frank gainfully employs the men it seems, and it's all a bit top-secret, even from the wives.

The film takes too long setting all this up. I actually almost gave up on it as I approached half an hour of this scene-setting, but stuck around because Florence Pugh plays the lead, Alice, and she's worth watching the film for, alone. However, it does get going and the story starts to unfold. A story full of twists and turns and unexpected reveals and outcomes, so I'll say no more.

Yes, Florence Pugh steals the whole film from everyone else. It is clear that she is the most talented actor on display as the others try to match her, but don't get close. Olivia Wilde is also in the film as one of the wives, Harry Styles (who seems to get some bad press for not being much of an actor) plays Alice's husband Jack and Chris Pine plays the mysterious 'leader' Frank. None of the supporting cast do a bad job, it's just that Pugh outshines them all put together! Gemma Chan plays Shelley but doesn't really have much screen time. When she's in shot though she's doing as good a job as the rest of them.

It's difficult to know where to go from here, because there's so much hanging on the plot and outcomes that there's a huge risk of spoilers floating out there for anyone (even) reading between the lines, so I'd suggest that you just watch it and enjoy. There's other stuff to enjoy, too, like the visual landscape of what's on display in the community but also the thoughtful camerawork with creative angles, long shots, close focus and colours. At times it almost feels arthouse, but not quite!

The film doesn't quite get you perched on the edge of your seat, but it is a thriller of sorts and there is some level of suspense, even if not exploited to the full. The story does unfold nicely, in a structured manner, which adds substance to the mystery for the audience.

But it's really all about Florence Pugh. She really is staggeringly good to watch, so convincing and engaged with becoming Alice, carrying off the emotions and trauma both high and low beautifully. As I suggested earlier, I though Harry Styles did a decent enough job as the pair of them negotiate their way through the plot and situation. No, no spoilers. Stop!

There are many ways the audience can consume what's going on here and form their own takeaways in terms of meaning and message. Best to watch with an enquiring mind, but also be open to the potential meanderings, which lie in wait! That's it. I'm done! It's currently available to buy on various streaming services for those of us with lots of Google Reward Points (or equiv.) to use, but no doubt soon to rent.

Saturday, 10 December 2022

Resurrection (2022)

This is a film brought to us by writer/director Andrew Seamans as he explores dark themes around domestic violence and unfair control within relationships - in a wrapper labelled thriller, drama and maybe even horror (depending on your interpretation).

The story is about Margaret, a successful businesswoman, single mother apparently in control of her neat life. Everything in place and daughter Abbie almost 18 and about to head off to university. We observe the normal light friction between generations as mum and daughter spar about value-bases and expectations.

Then, one day, out of the blue, Margaret is in a lecture and she sees a man sat across the room and flees the scene in a panic, hyperventilating. Shortly after she's out shopping with Abbie and he's there in the store. She goes to the park and he's there, sat on a bench. We start to see the panic in Margaret rise, each time she sees him and her in-control life starts to fray at the edges before coming apart at the seams.

Turns out that the man, David, is someone that she'd had a relationship with when she was 18, 20-odd years before. We are presented with some further information, as told by her, about how he abused and controlled her back in the day - culminating in them having a male child who didn't survive the situation. I shall say no more!

What we see from hereon in is Margaret's life descending into chaos. We're not terribly sure how much of it is real and how much in her mind. David only appears generally with her in closed situations, leading us to wonder if actually he's there or not. He starts to attempt to control her again, but this time she's stronger. Until he plays his trump card which she seems powerless to rise above. Very difficult to continue with this narrative without giving away plot spoilers, so I'll stop and leave you to watch it for yourself, decide what you think is going on and look forward to the jaw-dropping and gripping finale.

Rebecca Hall (Transcendence, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town) is Margaret and plays the part quite brilliantly. I can't fault her performance, convincing at every turn demonstrating with depth the feelings, emotions and trauma that the character is going through. It's a masterclass. Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight, Reservoir Dogs) plays David and he's not far behind. Sinister, creepy and nasty-looking, but it's Hall who steals the show.

There's a great supporting performance from Grace Kaufman (The Sky is Everywhere) who plays Abbie and also a deserved shout-out for Angela Wong Carbone (Doublespeak) who very nicely plays an intern at the office who Margaret is helping with a domestic abuse situation of her own, in the early stages of the film.

The film is edge-of-the-seat stuff often, tense and nervy and never gives up until the very last frame. It's shot really nicely with thoughtful visuals reflecting the mood of the characters and what's going on at any given time. The sound is worth a mention too as it adds to the atmosphere, particularly when we get the 'all-silent but for a deep pulse' heartbeat pounding in the background, the beat of tension.

It really is very well put together and certainly has a message to tell about how people treat each other, the long-term impact of that on lives, how people cope with their trauma and how that may (or may not) spill over into lack of control and even mental health problems. There is space left here for the viewer to decide for themselves on some of the outcomes and proceedings, but that's it - I've said too much already! Check it out.

Friday, 9 December 2022

Google Pixel 7

Here we go then with the 7th generation of Google's Pixel range which started in 2016 following the Nexus line (which served us well from 2010). Time flies, as they say, and that Nexus One had a giant 3.7" screen to wow us back then. Now, the smallest Pixel of this generation is almost double that! On with my thoughts, though. Has the 7 injected more excitement than the 6 from last year, I wondered, or is it worth buying over last season's budget 6a offering..?

We're getting used to receiving nothing much in tiny product boxes these days apart from the product - and this isn't far off. The USB-C to USB-C cable and USB-C to USB-A adapter, some papers which nobody reads, a pokey-hole tool for the SIM Card Tray and that's your lot. The days of bundled chargers are gone for many, going for most and only being held onto by OEMs based in the far-east it seems now.

I have been supplied by Google's PR in the UK with the Lemongrass version of the Pixel 7 and it really is a very nice pastel shade. If I'd seen it alongside the others, Obsidian and Snow (black and white to us!), I might well have chosen it anyway. The unit is £599 to buy in the UK for the 128GB storage version or £699 if you want 256GB. A significant difference from the Pro version's pricing. The extras you get with the Pro version are a bigger phone, 120Hz refresh rate on the screen instead of 90Hz, 1440p instead of 1080p, some bigger storage options with more RAM, a bigger battery to drive all that and no doubt most significantly for many, the 5x optical zoom with OIS. So, if all that's important to the user, stump up the extra £250!

In the hand, the phone is big. And oblong. With sharp, squared corners. A bit bigger than the 6a (which I felt was big enough anyway, coming from the dinky Pixel 5) but obviously smaller than the 7 Pro. It's very comparable in size to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, which I happen to have here, though used naked, the latter's plastic back is apparent. The Pixel 7 is very nicely built with 'heft'. Solid and clearly well manufactured with a sturdy aluminium frame, slightly curving around the back to meet the Gorilla Glass Victus rear. Ironically, in this colour, the back actually doesn't look like glass - until you catch the light reflecting on it. The front panel is also Victus, but the standout feature of the design is the huge lump of a camera 'bar' across the back!

I do like this design feature in principle, as I did when others did it before Google (such as TCL with their 10 Pro), but I don't like it sticking out so far and with very sharp edges. For the person who's going to use it without a case, I guess it does help with handling as it gives a 'ledge' for the fingers - but I think they made it this design to be in keeping with the 7 Pro - which maybe justifiably needed the extra space for the camera - not because they needed to. The 'bar' on the Pixel 6a is much better, subtle, and pleasing to the eye. The Pixel 7 is rated IP6/8 for dust/water, so good reassurance there.

Slap a TPU case on it and it smooths out the harshness of the bar. There's a 'G' in the middle of the back and on that camera bar there's a pill-shaped cutout for the cameras and an LED flash. It's shiny chrome in colour but does have a slightly 'matt' finish. Down at the bottom, we have two grilles, one for a microphone, one for the 'right' speaker and the USB-C port - which is stylishly accented inside with the colour of the device. A very nice touch. On the right we have the power button and volume rocker (the wrong way round - come on Google!) with chrome accenting and they feel as sturdy and well-made as the rest of the phone. SIM Card Tray is on the left and that's about it really for the tour.

The front panel has a 2mm bezel top, right and left, with a bit more on the chin. It's a good-looking AMOLED panel, 6.3" with a ratio of 20:9 returning 416ppi. The 90Hz refresh rate is a step up from the 60Hz of the 6a but not as much as the 120Hz of the 7 Pro. And I can't tell the difference between any of them, unlike most people in the world, it seems! Apparently, the screen is supposed to be good for 1000nits or brightness in manual and 1400nits in auto - but I'm afraid that I don't see that. It is bright, but I don't see it as that bright - especially when compared to other devices I have kicking around, like the aforementioned Samsung and my trusty Motorola Edge 30 Neo. The same is true for colours as I see them, other devices have much richer, saturated and bright colours throughout, even when the 'Adaptive Colours' is selected over 'Natural' in settings. I don't know who makes this panel for Google but it's not as vibrant as the ones Samsung seem to use on their mid-to-upper tier phones, nor the Motorola's pOLED (which we think is made by LG). Unless they're dumbing it down on purpose to make it look more natural. Still, for most people not doing a side-by-side comparison, I'm sure they'll be absolutely fine with the way it looks.

Up at the top of the panel there's Selfie camera punch-hole, centre and slightly inside the line of the bezel, just underneath the 'left' speaker doubling up as the earpiece for phone calls. It's tucked away in a very, very thin slither of an opening between the glass and frame. In the glass, there's an optical fingerprint scanner. This has taken much criticism across the Pixel 6 range and in my experience here, it's not really that much better. Maybe a tad. What is different here however, hugely different for real world use, is the addition (at last) of Face Unlock. Google listened and brought it back. And it works excellently. In all but the dullest conditions, it renders the not-so-good fingerprint scanner redundant. Maybe not quite as fast as Samsung's implementation, but not far off - and certainly better than Motorola's.

The unit I have here has got 128GB of storage (UFS3.1) and 8GB RAM. The storage seems fast enough on read/writes and RAM certainly adequate for task-switching in my tests here. This, all supported by the new Tensor G2 from Google/Samsung running under the latest Android 13 of course with bang up-to-date security. The Pixel 7, incidentally, gets update support through to October 2027 for security and Android 16.

This second-generation chipset is supposed to be faster than the first (on the 6 range), with enhanced Machine Learning (AI), better/faster translation, speech recognition, camera capability, security and a bunch of other stuff working hard under the bonnet. I certainly don't see any problems during workflows here as it handles tasks efficiently and with speed. The translation of live speech is, frankly, jaw-droppingly good.

Gaming is something which I dip in and out of. I don't push mobile phones to the limits that some do with heavy all-action FPS titles and the like. I'm more likely to be playing puzzle games or at most, Mario Kart/Angry Birds! However, I did load up Asphalt 9 (with 2.52GB download!) and gave it a whirl for a while. I didn't notice any jittering or juddering in framerates or slowdown - it all seemed very smooth. The phone did get a little warm after an extended period, but really not very hot (like the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV did during my review period). This only happened during this 'heavy' game too - my twee(!) games, above, run without a hitch and no heat. For the average user, not heavy gamer, this will be great for casual titles.

There's only space for one physical nanoSIM Card in the slot, but an eSIM can be used as well if needed. No microSD of course. Of course! It's a Pixel. Connectivity seems very good here. I use EE 4G in the UK and have a pretty good signal for voice and data, though I can't test the 5G. It holds onto calls well, reported both ends as good and clear, but as always with cellular, your mileage will vary based on signal and operator etc. WiFi 6e is supported for those who can access that lofty level! For the rest of us, the phone connects without issue to various routers on broadband tested here and seems, again, to hang on in there. GPS looks good, with secure locks for mapping and other apps needing that functionality, offering quick and accurate connection. NFC, similarly, works just fine for pairing up various bits of gear and using Google Pay. No issues or quirky behaviour.

In isolation, the sound coming from the stereo speakers is very good. It's loud and with decent enough quality reproduction to keep most people out there very happy. The stereo effect is good with a wide-enough soundstage when the phone is held out in front of the viewer at, say, 18 inches. The screen is big enough to watch visual media and the sound is, well, good enough. However, when the phone's speakers are put up against (what I consider to be) the best, they're not as good. I have conducted testing alongside various other phones which, well, just sound better. Even the Pixel 6a I think has a better sound, which was really surprising. Using a range of music and video apps, a range of music genres and files encoded differently for audio and video, it is my honest opinion that if sound from speakers is what you're after, you can do better elsewhere - and not always for more money. I come back to my Edge 30 Neo again, for half the price, which beats the audio hands-down. But I'm nit-picking. As I say, for the huge majority of users not doing side-by-side tests, much like for the OLED panel, above, they will be very happy. This is just a warning for any audiophiles out there!

There's no 3.5mm audio-out of course, so we're down to dongles and adapters or USB-C head/earphones - or do what everyone seems to want us to do now - turn to Bluetooth! We have v5.2 here with LE and aptX HD so as with all things Bluetooth and head/earphones these days, dongles, adapters and whatever, the reproduction will be measurable based on the connected equipment and not the phone. Apart from Sony (and a few lower-end phones from some OEMs) it seems like any physical connection is yesterday's news. So, any review here will be of that equipment, not the Pixel 7. Just for the record, most of the gear I connected via Bluetooth sounded great! The physical range seems good enough, if not the best, for wandering around, listening, without the phone in your pocket.

Getting audio/video out to a TV or PC is not as straight forward as having a Samsung DeX or Motorola Ready For system where you can use a USB-C to HDMI lead and pipe it down, no latency, local and direct. Google want you to be online so they're not going to throw that switch to enable offline anything! So you have to Cast it. Via a compatible TV/Monitor or better still for Google's goals, a ChromeCast unit with Google TV. The downside of this is that everything you 'cast' from your phone doesn't really go to your TV from the phone, not even via just your WiFi router, but out and up to Google's servers with the instructions and downloaded from there. It's all a bit more complicated than it should be, using up data and bandwidth, just so that Google can make sure that you're online - and likely to be available to have adverts served up to you. The USB socket is 3.2, so capable of a physical connection. They could throw the switch in software if they wanted to.

The very same USB-C 3.2 socket which one might use for audio/video seems good enough for charging up the phone, though it's no super-fast charger, capped at 20W - so the best part of a couple of hours to charge it right up. A quick boost should give you about half the battery in half an hour if you get stuck, though. This all supported by wireless charging, also capped at 20W, but most of my Qi Chargers are trickle units 10/15W anyway for overnight or desktop, so that's fine. You can also charge other devices by placing them on the back - and even use pass-through charging, cabling up the 7 at the same time.

The battery is 4,355mAh and in my tests it is very good. Not quite Pixel 5 level, but not that far off. My 10% Reading Test returns about two and a half hours and with middling use, it could make to the end of two days. As always, it depends on what you're doing with it. I measured 36 hours one day between charges and 7 hours of screen-on-time. It's decent enough for all but the heaviest of users, out and about, who might want to take along a powerbank.

Lacking that 5x optical zoom is, of course, a miss, but for most users who know about pinch/splaying fingers for digital zoom will be very happy with that on the main camera - particularly when Google's AI smarts get in on the act. No, of course, it won't survive pixel-peeping like the Pro version might, but for most people, for most uses, they will be very happy. Especially when they realise they have saved £250! They're the smart ones - almost as smart as the software on show here which pulls off some amazing tricks. When engaging Night Sight, you realise that pixels can see light that your eyes can't! Quite phenomenal to look into a dark cupboard, see nothing, fire off a shot and then see what's in there. A nightmare waiting to happen during Halloween! Tap the '2' button for more smarts and the Super Res 2x zoom which gives you more than you're entitled to with any other dumb system! Digitally zoom in with your fingers in good light and watch as the camera's software turns a fuzzy mess into something that most of us would be happy to share around on social media.

The main camera is a 50MP f1.9 unit with OIS and it's supported by a wide-angle 12MP f2.2 shooter and 10MP f2.2 Selfie round the front. You can shoot 4K video at 60fps with the main camera and that has OIS as well. Night Sight, Action Panning, great portraits with selectable depth of field (before and after) with Blur, Unblur tools - even Magic Eraser now (which is very smart and somewhat addictive)! The kind of stuff that Nokia were trying to do with the 9 PureView so long ago. Colour Focus is Google's version of Moto's Spot Colour, isolating a colour and rendering the rest mono, Skin Tone adjustments, colour shifting/tinting/casting, adding text, highlighting, filtering and loads more. Google's camera smarts coupled up with Google Photos app is a veritable playground and productivity suite. When you start to tweak, you realise why so many hold up the Pixel phones aloft, merely for this feature-set. Amazing.

For a deep dive, with samples, charts and diagrams galore, I'm going to hand you over to the folks at GSMArena who have done just that, with further insights into the pros and cons of the Pixel 7's camera setup to give you a much better understanding that I can here. Two full pages of it on their website, starting here.

So often, the Pixel experience is all about the software, not hardware, as we see above. Google have tried to evolve their hardware over the years but there's no doubt that other OEMs are doing it better, with more physical features, tweaks to Android which are well thought out and pushing physical boundaries and they fold, flip and roll! There is talk of Google producing a folding phone sometime soon and have been working with Samsung on the Android 12L rollout to facilitate that, eventuality. In the meantime, yes, Google focus on software smarts - clever additions to the online, connected experience - and as I speak there's a bunch more arriving in the December 2022 Feature Drop with the latest security patch.

Some people now consider that this no longer 'pure' Android, a Vanilla flavour. I can see what they mean, because actually, the likes of the Nokia XR20, Sony models, FairPhone 4 and anything else hanging onto the AndroidOne badge/scheme are much closer to that than Google have become with Pixels. They have stamped their own set of features on their phones, many of which you only get on Pixels, at least initially while they decide at some point down the line whether or not they are going to roll them out to be a part of Android itself. And no more so than now.

I have already mentioned the transcribing feature, above, (which, incidentally, can be used pretty much anywhere in the UI instead of typing) then there's the evergreen Now Playing which 'listens' out for any music playing and has a stab at telling you what it is, with Share hooks then to add it to your Music service. Some may think that the camera smarts are worth the purchase price alone - I think Now Playing is! Locked launcher screen elements is a bad move, Google. Search field taking up the bottom (when there are hundred ways to invoke Google Search) and At A Glance at the top. Neither can be moved, though at least the latter now has oodles of settings and preferences to choose from.

Then there's the Always on Display, which is, at last, growing in popularity after years of OEMs catching up with the idea (much like Qi Charging). I do have a complaint about the AoD however - that it just isn't bright enough. But Google are not alone here. There are very few AoD implementations which are bright enough - and only one that I know of where the user can control the brightness thereof - Samsung's. I don't know why this is so neglected. The algorithms are just wrong. As they are for many devices for Adaptive Brightness - yes auto-brightness, which most just get wrong. Some exceptions, the Pixels being one of them, but the greatest offender here is Sony.

The Android 12/13 Theming, Material You, Icons, Wallpaper and Styles are rolling out quite broadly now to other non-Pixel phones, for those OEMs who wish to adopt them. When Material You was first introduced, I was sceptical and thought that Samsung/Motorola were doing this better anyway. However, I am now completely sold on the idea and love the smart way in which the Theming works and am most put out if I have to use a phone on Android 12 which doesn't have it! Another big bonus for Pixel. It's been well thought out, imagined, and executed with system-wide theming when selected. I'm not sure about the big button shortcuts on the drop-down Notification Shade, however. They seem comically big, and I don't see what's wrong with the way they were, Samsung-like, smaller circles with more in view. Or here's a mad idea - let the user choose!

There are smarts in terms of hooking up Google's Messages App to a desktop PC with Device-Pairing for those who don't want to go down the Microsoft Phone Link route. Or teamed up with a Chromebook there's a Phone Hub which can be employed to do even more. There's an increasing amount of joined-up thinking going on as ChromeOS evolves and Google shift Android more towards ChromeOS, landscape options, tablets and maybe even Fuchsia!

Then there's all the Digital Wellbeing, fitness, now sleep/snore detection going on which regular users are hooking up with various watches, monitors, and other gear to make the most out of looking after themselves in a busy world. Tons of stuff to play with, particularly if you have a Pixel Watch. Imagine - a Pixel Phone, Pixel Watch, and a Chromebook! For those who have a Google One subscription, at the time of writing, they can also make use of an auto-VPN service where, when turned on, Google say they will protect your privacy and security by routing your online traffic via another service, invisible to the user. The best use I can see for this is if you're hooked up in an airport or the like on a public WiFi facility and could probably use some protection from hacking, depending on what systems you're using.

Google have also just introduced Clear Calling where background noise is removed when you're taking a phone call, Call Screening - which I used for the first time last week and it really is impressive as the Google Assistant reads out a predefined script telling your caller that you're screening and invite them to state their business. If they do, Google then transcribes what they are saying so you can just read it or interrupt if you then want to speak with them. Just fiendish! Spatial Audio is coming in January 2023, apparently, for us to make use of via (some) head/earphones and the hardware is already geared up to work with that.

I'm just skimming the surface here regarding the Google Assistant, smarts and what AI can do for the Pixel user. There's tons more of this stuff which would require a book, not online review! There's no doubt at all that for those who are prepared to get into bed with Google, sell them their soul (or at least their data) and scoop up what's on offer it can be a fun and productive platter. Deep diving is needed, so get yourself a Pixel and explore!

And that's probably what readers here need to do. There's only so much I can write about when there's so much! There are lots of other phones, however, that you can buy for the same £600 which will bring you a different feature-set, different emphasis, different capabilities and focus. You need to understand the whole Pixel/Google 'thing' really to want to get onboard with buying a Pixel phone. Appreciate the advantages. Live with the shortcomings, which you know you could get, without, elsewhere with your money.

For about half the price, you could still buy a Pixel 6a - and this is where I started. I have one here and I was trying to work out if there's enough here with the Pixel 7 to tempt me to upgrade. The honest answer is probably no, but it's a personal thing. I think I can live with last year's Tensor chipset, the 60Hz refresh-rate screen and a little bit less RAM but what I would miss is the slightly smaller size and the Qi Charging now. The 6a's speakers are actually better (slightly) and if I were buying new, now, it would save me a shedload of cash. I still get security updates to October 2026 and Android 15. All for under £300.

The Pixel 7 is a tremendously capable device plugged straight into the heart of Google and what they're doing. If you value that above all else, then there's no competition for your money. It performs beautifully and if you're going to make good use of that camera, the online smarts, transcription and all the rest then there's firstly, no other choice in quite the same way, and secondly, you won't regret it. Look elsewhere for other bells and whistles, but you might regret not being a satellite to the real mothership.

Thursday, 1 December 2022

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of November 2022

...a roundup of our month of podcasting. Links to the team, communities and podcast homes on the net at the foot, so scroll down!


Projector Room
Episode 124 - The Good Barbarian
Wednesday 2nd November
Allan is back this week to join Gareth and I as we natter about what we've been watching in film, cinema and TV. Lots of goodies as always as we focus on The Good Nurse, head for Rome in Themed Treats, consider a spritely crop of stuff Coming Soon and loads more.

Phones Show Chat
Friday 4th November
a.k.a. The Lost Guest! Steve and I return this weekend, just the two of us, as our guest from Hong Kong had insurmountable connectivity issues. We tried! Steve is going to try to do an interview with him, Ian Thomas, soon and slot it in somewhere. In the meantime, we chat about my ongoing Sony experiments and Pixel ponderings - and Steve's big, inevitable Apple purchase!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 721 - The View from Hong Kong!
Sunday 6th November
The Lost Guest is found! Ian Thomas and Steve chat for half an hour as a slotted-in special. Lots of topics covered including a meander down Memory Lane!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 6th November
Gareth and I are back with a trawl through more techy stuff this weekend. Loads of stuff as usual including Haptic Gloves, Xiaomi/Leica concept devices, folding Huawei, Ayaneo 2 fun, Google Accessibility and whether Moto Matters!

Whatever Works
Episode 174 - Mandolin Malarkey!
Friday 11th November
Aidan and I are here again with another hour of stuff'n'nonsense as we delve into the Wonderful World of Whatever Works - for us and you! Grandma Shark is back, so watch out as she sucks and blows, we inflate and repair tyres, reuse bags, Gather tea-towels and get a capital lesson in punctuation!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 722 - The Zen of Zenfone!
Saturday 12th November
Steve and I are back again with another bumper-packed episode and this week we're joined by Adrian Brain. We catch up on what phones he's been using and tech, enjoying - and loads of other stuff too. I'm happy to be back in the Moto world and Steve, his updated Apple one!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 13th November
A nice little pot of stories and items await you this week in our podcast, so do come and join Gareth and I as we trail through the tech! Oppo and Neo. Mastodon in French carparks. Stupid expensive headphones and the great ROG snap. Gaming and flapping and Bargains galore.

Projector Room
Episode 125 - The Crown of Inisherin
Thursday 17th November
Plenty of goodies as always including a couple of trips to Ireland, The Sahara, The Western Front, Alcatraz - and even Galicia!

Phones Show Chat
Friday 18th November
Steve and I are here this weekend with another two-header whilst Steve is tied up in London. I'm comparing the Xperia 5 Mk.IV with the Edge 30 Neo, RRP's £600 apart(!) and Steve's all-in on camera testing, iPhone vs Sony. Plenty more as usual, so do grab it!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 20th November
Gareth and I are back again with our topical tech tinctures. Moto and Garmin are in on new watches, Realme knock it out of the park on pricing, spatial audio is now all a chip thing and Google try to keep up with TikTok! Loads more of course, including ivory tinkering with the Pianola!

Whatever Works
Episode 175 - The Sage and the Oracle!
Friday 25th November
Aidan and I are here again with our fortnightly roundup of Whatever Works (or doesn't) for us and you! The usual hour of chaos includes more coffee-chat, a transparent look through audio gear, squirrel elimination, thermal socks and loads more! Grab a coffee and join us!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 724 - The Top Pocket Test
Saturday 26th November
Kurt Kaufman joins Steve and I this weekend as we find out what he's been up to in the world of mobile and add our thoughts on all the latest testing with Sony, Apple, Google, Moto, Anker and much more. So join us for an hour!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 27th November
Gareth and I chat about Honor Magic Vs, Honor 80, Oukitel WP21, Anbernic RG505, Palm OS emulator, Lelo Pleasure Console, Galaxy A23 5G and Clarks shoes.

Projector Room
Episode 126 - Wednesday's Woe!
Wednesday 30th November
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with our fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. Recorded on Wednesday, it's over to Wednesday! Loads more of course, including a trip to South Africa, a number of Flops, a special viewing of The Mousetrap and we even hang out with some artful vampires in Detroit! 

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Anyone fancy a smart, intelligent, arty and funny vampire romp? Look no further, as this ticks all those boxes and more. It certainly is arthouse creativity and is a delight to watch, not least for the wonderful performances of the cast.

This 2013 film is the creation of Jim Jarmusch (Paterson, Broken Flowers) adapted from a French story by Marion Bessay. The story follows five smart characters in present day, four of whom are vampires who've lived for centuries and the fifth a Zombie! Husband and wife vampires, Eve and Adam, have been living separately for some time - he in Detroit and she in Tangiers (we're not really sure why). Eve has an older vampire friend there but Adam in the USA is very much alone, apparently depressed and considering the wooden-bullet exit! He pays his Zombie friend to manage his needs in terms of being surrounded by music and musical instruments.

One evening, they're on the phone and spontaneously decide to get together, which they do in Detroit, only travelling by night flights of course! The grand reunion takes place and Adam continues to service his need for blood via the local hospital - and a bribed lab technician. Eve has a sister, who is also a vampire, and she has seeded dreams into Eve and Adam to alert them to the fact that she could be turning up anytime soon. Which she does. She's an irresponsible vampire, too keen to bump people off to get what she wants instead of following the measured, mature path that our central pair have carved out!

Eve has loyalty to Ava and is happy to see her, but Adam remembers what chaos she caused between them when they last met, during the last century, so doesn't want her around! Anyway, the story is padded out, having fun along the way with quirks and characters and nods to historic facts, myth and incident. John Hurt plays the older chap in Tangiers and it is clear that he's actually Christopher Marlowe, who allegedly wrote half of Shakespeare's work, and comic reference is made to that. Sadly, Hurt is only in 3 scenes, but commands his place in each.

Tilda Swinton (Burn After Reading, The French Dispatch, Broken Flowers) and Tom Hiddleston (The Night Manager, The Essex Serpent, The Deep Blue Sea) play the main two characters sumptuously. Great fun is being had by them both of them and artistic leanings embraced on demand from the director. Mia Wasikowska (Stoker, Alice in Wonderland) plays Ava and really ramps up the fun as she leads our main characters into a thrill-ride which they really were not interested in! Which just leaves Ian the Zombie played most ably by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Thoroughbreds, New York I love You).

It's all a great deal of classy, arthouse, fantasy fun but it's been executed beautifully with very interesting music thrown in. Nods all over the place to all sorts of interesting historic stuff including other films - it reminded me very much of Interview with the Vampire, here and there. It's very nicely shot with dark interiors - in fact the whole film is dark, not a single scene in daylight, sun-drenched hours - and culturally reflective of the two locations. It is quite slow in places, but it drips with class, reflecting a very nicely measured project. Recommended. It's on Mubi just now but also scattered across other streaming services.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Motorola Edge 30 Neo

It's a long time since I had a new Motorola phone. In fact, since 2020 and the Edge Plus - now abandoned by Moto in terms of security updates, but let's not go there again! The Edge+ (2020) remains close to me however, still the best sounding speakers on a phone I've ever had. For those who want to remember that one, here's a link to my review from 2020. Meanwhile, I'm excited to explore the new Edge 30 Neo.

When phones have 'Neo' attached to them, we expect them to be cut-down, 'lite' versions of flagships (or even mid-rangers). The lower-end versions with compromises left, right and centre, making them less attractive to buy for us nerdy types! However, the major Chinese manufacturers are changing that landscape, slowly and surely over time - adding more and more mid-range (and in some cases flagship) features which defy their position in the plethora of possible choices for the consumer. And Motorola have caught on, it seems!

Caught on, because the Edge 30 Neo is really rather impressive at the £349 price-point. Sales going on all over the place of course - I got this one for £319, but I'm sure you could find it for £299 as I write now. For under £300, what you get here is staggeringly impressive and a really aggressively-priced challenge to others in the space. Motorola have just released this phone in autumn 2022 alongside the Edge 30 Fusion and Edge 30 Ultra - both further up the price range.

The box
looks like an eco-friendly affair, brown cardboard which at least looks the part with claims of being plastic-free and recyclable with the use of 'soy ink' where printing is done. It's a nice enough little box, much like previous Moto ones in terms of size. There's a pokey-tool for the SIM Card Tray included, unusually hard-plastic (not soft) transparent case, USB-C to USB-C cable and a 68W Turbo-Charger - yes, in the box! They've done a deal with the colour-design creation firm Pantone to introduce some interesting colour options for the outside and with matching wallpaper - so you can choose 
Very Peri, Black Onyx, Ice Palace or Aqua Foam - inside and out! I have the Black one here.

The phone is almost dinky! I say almost, because it's not quite Pixel 5 dinky, but it's much smaller than many phones out there (especially Motorola's kind of 'standard' 6.7") and therefore, very pocketable and great for one-handed use. I'm likening it in terms of size to the Pixel 6a in fact. They are very close, but the 6a being a tad wider and with 'squarer' corners makes it a little less dinky than the Neo. Soft TPU cases (I bought one for the Neo) in place on both and the finger/thumb test around the waist of the phone is more difficult on the Pixel, no problem on the Neo.

The back of the phone is plastic with a very slight texture to it. Not enough to stop it slipping out of the hand, but it's certainly not glossy-shiny. There's an embossed Moto 'M' in a dimple in the centre and a Pantene sticker making sure you know what colour you chose! The camera island is a strange-looking two-tone - one lens and LED Flash sitting in a 'glossy' half following the Pantene colour and the other, a matt grey colour. The most interesting thing about the camera island though is the Notification LED surrounding it, which I'll come to. The island sits top-left in portrait.

Around the plastic edge
we have various microphones - and even a tiny 'Dolby Atmos' with logo, next to the top front-firing speaker/earpiece. Nothing on the left, volume rocker over power button (which seem sturdy) on the right, then the other speaker, USB-C port and Dual (double-sided) NanoSIM Card Tray on the bottom. Motorola do their usual trick of avoiding IP-rating certification by claiming 'splash and dust resistant' but without guarantees and/or testing. So anyway, it's all plastic - but I'm OK with that. It's certainly very light to add to the dinky nature - at just 155g.

Despite the ongoing 'Edge' name Moto use, the front panel is flat Gorilla Glass 3, a 6.28" P-OLED, 1080p, 20:9 ratio, returning 419ppi. There's a 120Hz refresh rate with manual step-down, forced max or Auto settings. And it really is a bright and colourful display. Certainly up there with Samsung with saturated colours and deep blacks. You get almost 500 nits with manual control but over 1000, amazingly, in auto. And you can tell, outside in sunlight as you can see it very well. Also, the auto-brightness works wonderfully well - so much better in terms of auto-adjustment for environment than others, especially, recently, our experience with some Sony Xperia devices. I can happily leave it on auto - and trust it to get it right.

The black bezels are about a millimetre left and right, a bit more top and bottom. It is all symmetrical and it looks just fine to my eyes - as does the central punch-hole Selfie camera. Very subtle and quickly becoming a blind-spot. You can adjust the display in settings between Natural and Saturated (pre-sets) and also colour temperature with the warm/cool slider. The Night-light has an intensity slider too, with a scheduling option thrown in. I'm very impressed with this panel overall, certainly at this price point.

What you don't get with Moto is a 'proper' Always on Display. However, you do get their own Peek feature which I have spoken about a lot in the past. I accept that it's not 'always on', but the way in which it works almost makes up for it. There are two flavours of Peek. One uses a proximity sensor to wake up the screen, so you can wave your hand over the screen and it wakes and the other, present here, needs the user to nudge, lift or double-tap the screen to wake it. Notifications coming in will wake it if chosen of course - and this is where Peek comes into its own. Press and hold the Notification icon that you want to see and you get a summary at the top of the screen of what it's about. Still holding, if you want to go through and read it properly, slide down to the on-screen, fingerprint scanner and the phone will open up, taking you directly into the relevant app and message. Want to dismiss it without looking? Drag it to the Dismiss 'x'. Then there are app-context options, so if it's a Messaging/GMail app, you get a 'Reply' or 'Delete' option to slide to, YouTube (for example) 'Play', 'Watch Later and so on. It really is a well-coded and thought out system.

You can, of course, if you're not happy with having no Always on Display install a number of Android apps to conjure it up. My favourite is AoA: Always on Display or if you fancy Edge Lights like Samsung's, I recommend aodNotify which does a great job. This is all assuming that the LED Notification lighting around the camera island that I mentioned earlier isn't enough. Moto have done this before. I explained all about it when I had the Motorola One Zoom and it was a great feature, like a toned-down Razer or Nothing Phone. Here they have gone a step further in carefully designing the supplied hard-case so that when the lights go off and the phone is face-up on a desk, the lights reflect around the sides so you can see it going off. Not quite as good as the outrageously-rounded edges of the Edge Plus (2020) but going some way towards. This also works (perhaps not quite so well) with the clear soft TPU which I bought. There are some basic controls for this light, to choose which events make it light up. You can have it stay on whilst charging, but it's white-only and pulse-only for a set length of time. You can change the brightness from Adaptive to High/Medium/Low but anything other than High makes it much more difficult to see (unless it's a darker environment and/or the phone is face-down).

The phone arrived with Android 12 onboard, not 13, but with a promise of two OS updates (so to Android 14 sometime after Google release it in autumn 2023) and the usual bi-monthly security updates for 'at least' 2 years, giving this a supported life until autumn 2024. We hope. Fingers crossed. Motorola have been committing to 3 OS updates and 4 years of security with their 'flagships' but not, it seems down at this end, which I suppose is fair enough. Especially when we talk about what they have included here in terms of features for the price. Writing at the beginning of November here, I have the September Security update.

Powering the unit we have a SnapDragon 695 (6nm) and although that might feel a little low-end, it really isn't in terms of functionality. It's been perfectly fast enough with all that I threw at it - even some light car-racing gaming. No judders or shudders. Throw something really demanding at it and of course it might buckle, but the battery payoff here of a lesser chipset, for the target buyer, is well worth it. Even under load, copying loads of files from one device to the other, or installing 130 apps during setup, it was chugging along very nicely. When executing this kind of task, if you put it alongside a real flagship, of course you can see the difference in speed, but at least it's not heating up while it's doing it, even if it takes a tad longer!

Depending on where you are in the world you can get this in 3 flavours, 128GB/6GB RAM, 128GB/8GB RAM or 256GB/8GB RAM. I have the middle one here and didn't seem to have much choice in the UK. The 8GB RAM seems fine to me as well, switching tasks, not shutting stuff down, swapping back and forward etc. Not noticed a glitch with all that. As for storage, sadly there's no microSD Card slot - which is a diversion for Moto (and others) at this price point. We could always rely on memory expansion at this place in the market, but apparently that's now slipping away. There will only be Sony left soon - I wonder when they'll give up on it. Having said all that as if it's critical, I am changing! I've always been a great advocate of microSD but, actually, I hardly ever use it these days. I have about 60GB of data I want to carry, which leaves 128GB half-free. There's always USB-C on-the-go, so if push comes to shove, a card can be plugged in and read on-the-fly. And with cellular connectivity getting better all the time, being always-connected means that streaming (particularly music with low file-sizes) is really not much of an issue. Yes, it could be, stuck in a train tunnel or on an aircraft, but even those services are becoming more accessible in our ever more connected world.

I mentioned the under-glass optical fingerprint scanner earlier and the only complaint anyone could have with it really (laying aside the fact that it's not capacitive and on the side) is that it's pretty low down on the display. Very low down, in fact. Having said that, I've soon adjusted to it, especially when the Face Unlock works so well. The fingerprint scanner is really very good - you don't have to linger there like you do with the Pixel devices for a second - it's much quicker. Unless it's really dark, your face unlocks the phone before your finger gets there anyway! I watched one reviewer having difficulty getting their face recognised during the registration process - and this happened to me, too. This has happened before with Moto phones and me, which I've always put down to having a full beard. But to be fair, when the September Update came in, I tried it again and it worked fine, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's been tweaked in software. Attentive Display is also present, so the screen stays on when it continues to see your face via the Selfie Camera.

The 68W charging is very fast indeed - we're talking about 0-100% in just over 35 minutes. And about 75% in 20 minutes. It's great for when you really need a quick blast - by the time you've had a shower and breakfast, it's done! Not that the 4,020mAh battery will need charging too often as I'm finding it to be good for 48 hours between charges with about 6-8 hours of screen-on time. My 10% Reading Test is returning somewhere between two and three hours, usually somewhere in the middle, so very good indeed. All tests conducted with auto/adaptive-power features turned off. Added to this, we even have Qi wireless charging! Wow! This was a major draw for me, again, at this price point, a feature that is as rare as hen's teeth, so kudos to Moto. It's only charging at 5W, but actually, sitting on my bedside charger for my typical 7 hour sleep, I always wake up with it being on 100% - which is more than I can say for some other systems - looking at Sony and Nokia! So yes, I'm delighted with the power and charging department.

As you might expect, we have a very clean version of Android here from Motorola. In terms of Bloat, there was FaceBook pre-installed - but it was Uninstallable - and that was it. Google Discover to the left, completely standard Android 12 Notification Shade buttons and options. There is technically a My UX skin over the top, but it doesn't meander far from 'stock'. And the features it adds are useful - and worthy of the intrusion. I won't go through them all again, but the chop-chop torch, twist-twist for camera, three-fingers for screenshot - you will know all this by now if you have read my previous thoughts on My UX. There's some new stuff since the Edge+ though - some of which is Android 12 standard, but some that's not. Enhancements to the available Styles and Wallpapers, for example. Taking the standard Android 12 stuff and expanding it out, for example, meeting somewhere in the middle with what Moto was doing anyway under Android 10 and 11. There's also the new double-tap on the back of the phone to execute an action - open audio recorder, open Ready For (see below), play/pause music or pick any app installed to launch it. Seems to work very well, every time, whatever's assigned. Wonder why there's no torch - probably because of chop-chop! The Neo is largely Vanilla though - and that's a very good thing. Another Motorola-specific enhancement is the Ready For suite...

Ready For is Moto's shot at Samsung's DeX. In some ways, they do it better. Take a phone's brains, connect it to a PC, Display or TV and get an interactive UI up - then make use of the phone's screen as a mousepad to control the screen (with a TV) - or enjoy your PC's mouse and keyboard as pass-through control. You get a custom-designed UI via Windows software (called, imaginatively, the Ready For Assistant, which looks very much like Windows) where you can control the opening of apps on the phone, making use of the phone's software on a bigger screen. Some apps play ball better than others, some are rendered in helpful landscape, others behave just like they are on the phone. Developers are working with this, as are Google with enhancements to Phone Hub for Windows (to catch up with Chromebooks) and Microsoft/Samsung on the Phone Link tools.

Phone Link, unless you have a Microsoft or Samsung phone, is a watered-down version of these ideals and for a full immersive experience, DeX and Ready For have it nailed. Pass-through audio being an example. It doesn't work with Phone Link but it does with DeX and (wired) Ready For. You notice I said wired there because all of the above applies to the wired/USB-C version of Ready For, which this Neo doesn't have - it's wireless only (even though it has the supported hardware, DisplayPort, USB-C 3+ ready to support it). Moto have clearly decided to not throw the switch to make it happen.

However, it's far from all being lost as the Wireless version of Ready For is not that far behind the Wired. You don't get pass-through audio on a PC, for example (like Phone Link) and with a TV you connect via your network to a compatible TV (or in my case, Roku). It all works well enough but not quite as well as wired. For example, film/video lip-sync with some apps is not up to scratch, though on others it is. With wired, it all just works as if it's on the phone. You can choose to use the phone as an 'air mouse' if you like - or trackpad. The TV UI is much better than DeX's as you get a dedicated big-button interface which is much easier to navigate than a 'desktop' environment, which is what Samsung offers. Anyway, all good stuff for consumers. Maybe one day Moto will throw that switch in an update - I shall keep my beady eye on them!

The phone is supplied with stereo speakers which I mentioned, above, and they really are very good indeed. I've been comparing the output here with the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV and Motorola Edge Plus (2020) and the results are surprisingly comparable. The volume is really very loud and it's only at the very top-end of that where the components start to show that they're not as top-notch as the Edge+'s reproduction. Tweak it down a bit in volume just a tad, maybe 90%, and it fills out nicely in quality too. Alternatively, employ the Bass Boost (particularly) in the Dolby Atmos Pre-Sets or use the excellent Wavelet app to achieve similar. Whichever method is employed, you get to that same equation of quality/volume which shuffles it down a notch under the Edge+. I was surprised, however, that whatever I did with the output from the Xperia, I preferred the sound coming from this Moto, £600 less to buy! Yeah, I know, there's lots of other stuff you're paying for with the Sony too, but up until now I really thought that the Mk.IV was only being beaten by my Edge+, not coming in 3rd here.

The Dolby Atmos settings are the extended set, so lots of control over speakers as well as headphones - including full manual sliders - and yes, they really do make a difference with the right combination. They also continue to make available the Surround Virtualiser which, again, makes a significant difference to the stereo impact with both music soundstage/width and video/film with decent soundtracks. Placed 18" in front of the head and the listener can appreciate some clever software-driven speaker output enhancement going on, which is most impressive and enjoyable. There's no 3.5mm audio-out, unlike the Edge+ and Sony, but there's always dongles. Like with microSD, I think I'm learning to adjust to life with Bluetooth, particularly as the sound output via that route is staggeringly good these days from, well, pretty much any phone it seems. This unit is equipped with Bluetooth 5.1 utilising A2DP, LE, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive.

Connectivity is sound, it seems. The Bluetooth range seems to be solid, depending on quality of connected equipment of course, NFC for connecting to other gear seems to work as it should along with Google Pay and cellular connectivity seems very good indeed. I had a 2 hour voice call with my sister last night and it didn't flinch for the whole time. She was hearing me perfectly well, and vice-versa. When it comes to WiFi, it seems that here is where Moto have saved a few pennies as it's a bit like stepping back in time I guess... no WiFi6 of any flavour so it's back to 5/ac. Having said that, I have not noticed a thing wrong with my connection, no slower and no battery hit that I can detect. Makes you wonder if these 'improvements' in real-world use, are pretty minimal. Back in the days before these latest versions of WiFi I never had a problem, so maybe it's a bit like 4G and 5G. I'm more than happy on 4G - there's nothing I do or nowhere I go which makes me think that I might need 5G, even if I had it in my area, but I guess everyone's lifestyle is different. I might be worse off in a football stadium than those with 5G. Anyway, this phone might be behind the curve with WiFi but it does indeed have 5G.

I've always quite liked what Moto do with their Camera software and this is no exception. There's a pretty basic set of shooters here - a 
64MP f/1.8 main camera with OIS, a 13MP f/2.2 wide-angle secondary and a 32MP f/2.4 Selfie round the front. In my tests I think that the main camera shoots fine pictures, certainly in good light, and the wide-angle at 0.5x too. The jewel in the crown for me here though is the close-focus, dubbed 'Macro' of course by them, regardless of the misuse of the term! But it's really very impressive compared to most others which I have tried here. There's a 'Macro' badge present in most modes on the main view next to '0.5' and '1' - like Moto expect people to be shooting a lot of close-ups!

The Night Vision seems to me to work very impressively - you are led through that 'hold still' procedure, then watch as a photo appears - with subjects in the frame that even the human eye can't see! I'm sure a pixel-peeper will zoom in and pick up on loads of noise and so forth, but for the rest of us 98% of users, the shots are just great. The portrait mode seems to do a decent enough job with controlled depth of field - and you get that fun Spot Colour toy to play with along with an Ultra-Res 64MP forced-mode (to use the whole sensor and stop 'binning') - and bunch of other stuff too. You can edit which modes you want to see on the main view (Samsung style) and dive into settings for a bunch of other tweaks and adjustments. The one thing which seems to annoy people (who care about cameras in phones) is the lack of 4K Video shooting. There's also no optical Zoom, one of the clear advantages of the Edge+ with its 3x Optical which is very handy.

Anyway, I shall soon be out of my depth with digital photography, so I shall do my usual trick here of handing over to the folk at GSMArena who do a great job as they test, prod, poke, sample, assess and conclude. They seem to always know what they're doing (much more than I could) which is why I refer to them so often. Do please support them by visiting their site for the latest mobile news and to tune into their excellent phone reviews. They seem to think that the Neo punches above its weight generally and can produce good results, but is let down by no optical zoom or 4K video recording.

I really like this phone. So much so that I might just have to keep it for myself! I had fully intended to review and move it on, but there's so much to like about it that I don't want to now! It's a lovely size, which always goes down well with me - in the hand for one-handed use. In the pocket it's light and easy to carry, it has a great Macro mode for me and a super bright and colourful screen. The speakers really surprised me - not the best, but for this price, real contenders, the 68W charging is stunning in use, a good long battery life between charges and the cherry on the top is the Qi wireless facility, again, at this price point. Something that many, many are just not including at this price point - so well done Moto.

I started out comparing the Neo with the Pixel 6a and, yes, we all know that the Pixel phones give the user the smartest, cleverest, AI-driven camera stuff that there is (pretty much) but if you take that away (or are uninterested in digital photography) you're left with a very ordinary experience. Yes, you get all the Google goodness, first out of the gate and long support, but there is much enjoyment to be had playing with phones from other OEMs too - and I've always had such a soft spot for Moto. If they would get their finger out with regards to updates, I'd never look back!

There's also the Pixel's IP-rating over Moto's wishy-washy statements about protection from the elements, but there's no Qi charging, which the Moto has. Always on Display against Moto's Peek. The Pixel is certainly similarly priced and has very good stereo speakers too - and with that 4K video recording (which everyone but me seems bothered about)! The only reason I was really comparing the two devices at the outset was size - most other attributes seem arguable. But I remain in the Moto camp with that - the Edge 30 Neo is much nicer in the hand and this could lead me - by the hand - back into a new Moto era! Very impressed and highly recommended at this price.

Watcher (2022)

This is a 1990's style thriller pulled together by relative newbie director/writer Chloe Okuno which has been (eventually) pushed out to...