Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV

The evolution of the Xperia range from Sony has been fun, if expensive, to take part in and follow. In my case, particularly, the smaller of the current range - the 5-series. I am already the owner of a 5 Mk.II and although I wasn't able to get my hands on a 5 Mk.III, I thought that a comparison with the former might be a useful way to go on this as I have the II and IV in-hand.

Thanks to Sony PR in the UK for sending over this delayed but just-released unit for Phones Show Chat to review, though to cut to the verdict to some degree, I liked it so much that I bought one! I managed to find one second hand, mint, for two-thirds of the new price as the new price is not cheap, £949 in the UK. As to whether it's worth that money, dip in and find out with me.

The first thing to be said is that as the line has evolved. It has indeed followed the principles of evolution, small changes and improvements - so much so that the Mk.I, II, III and IV in some ways are difficult to tell apart. Which is a good thing. Slight tweaks to size, design, features, components, but essentially a very similar experience. Small in the hand with flagship specs and many that you won't find on any other phone right now - certainly not all in the one small package.

Cutting to the chase, the big news for the 5 Mk.IV over the previous models is that they have, at last, filtered down the Qi wireless charging from the big brother, being the 1-series. That's a huge deal for me, though I know it's a personal matter which people value differently. They've also increased the battery over previous models to 5,000mAh, improved the screen, tweaked the cameras, put in a faster chipset and 'squared up' the design, in keeping with the latest of the 1-series.

Let's start there, then. The outer aluminium frame is 'boxy' with squared edges unlike the more rounded design of the previous models. If you're very careful, it will actually stand up on its end without falling over - though I wouldn't recommend it! The Mk.II's Google Assistant button has been removed from the right-side, which is really no great loss with 100 other ways to invoke the service, but otherwise, around the edges, it's much the same. A camera two-stage shutter button, a capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button, a volume rocker - all on the right, beautifully crafted.

Up the top there's the 3.5mm audio-out socket surviving (well done Sony) and at the bottom, a USB-C socket for data/charging and a hugely improved SIM/microSD Card tray. It remains pull-out with fingernail, no 'tool' needed, but instead of a flimsy double-length plastic tray it's solid, double-sided and feels much better quality. It's a single-SIM 5G capable model with the option to add a second 5G eSIM. On the left side, there's nothing!

The front and back have been made with Gorilla Glass Victus for the first time (over GG6) and the back has an attractive 'matt' finish which does a great job with fingerprint suppression, for those brave enough to use an expensive all-glass slab without a case! The camera island is in the same place as before, top-left when held in portrait orientation and carries those three 12MP shooters which we'll come to later. The device remains IP65/8 rated for water/dust giving the user confidence for at least some extraordinary events.

Physically
, the phone is very slightly heavier, but smaller than previous incarnations - not by much - and unless you have them side-by-side you'd never know. The screen size has not been compromised, however, rather that the frame has been brought in by being 'square', bezels slightly smaller - it's all very subtle. The extra weight no doubt reflects the hike in battery size. If the Mk.II felt premium, and it did, this is gold-plated premium! It feels classy and I think because of the squared off sides, more so than the Mk.II.

There's a 256GB version of the unit available in some markets but I'm settling for the 128GB one here, supported by that microSD Card slot for expanded memory - getting close-to unique in flagships these days. I have my 512GB card in the slot and it's all talking nicely. Read/write times from the internal memory and external seem very fast indeed as I copied over loads of data. The execution was impressive over other phones - and I remember noting this about the Mk.II so I guess it's something that Sony just do! Both units have 8GB RAM, which has been consistent in the 5-series, and does the job very well keeping apps alive and processes running without incident.

The chipset has been hiked from a SnapDragon 865 (7nm+) in the Mk.II, through 888 (5nm) in the Mk.III to now SnapDragon 8 Gen 1 (4nm). Both the II and IV fly with any tasks thrown at them, even demanding games, though I do note that some reviewers are complaining that under very big load (gaming or videography) the phone is getting hot to touch. Some gamers have complained about system throttling to manage the heat, impacting their experience. I have not found this in my testing here but maybe I'm not pushing it hard enough. There is, I noticed, an overheating warning which pops up when you initiate the video/cinema apps, which I guess is not the best sign of Sony's confidence in their hardware for those pushing boundaries.

The phone arrived with Android 12 on board and September Google Security as I write towards the end of October. Sony do have a decent track record of timely updates and for the first time with the IV series phones, committed to 3 OS updates (so it should get Android 13, 14 and 15) along with the same (or more) Google Security Updates. Great to see the bar rising for this longer support by many manufacturers. Android 15 will be released in autumn 2024 so won't be 'outdated' until Google release Android 16 in autumn 2025. Some others do better still, but I'm OK with this. 

The front panel remains uncompromisingly, symmetrically cut off, top and bottom, to make way for all the sensors, speakers and camera so that they don't impact the 21:9 viewing area for consuming or creating media. Again, not many phone-makers are still doing this in 2022, certainly within the flagship space. It's a small area, top and bottom, which does make the phone feel 'taller' than it could be but I think it's a good enough payoff. Between the chin and forehead, we have a 2K OLED panel, consistent with previous models, 120Hz Refresh rate possible, 6.1" diagonal and 449ppi.

It's brighter and even more colourful than the Mk.II screen as I compare them side-by-side as Sony throws in their buzzword featured Triluminos with X-Reality engine and so on. Bottom line is that it's a superb panel with excellent viewing angles too. You can still tweak the display via Display Settings if you feel the need, drill down into manual white balance, colour gamut, contrast and enhance video images - either for the built-in screen or an external one. The Creator Mode is still there, compatible with BT.2020 and 10-bit output. Laying aside all the techo-talk, it's a super screen (however you tweak it - or not) which reminds me very much of a top-notch Samsung panel.

The fly in the ointment is, however, Sony's algorithms with regards to Auto-Brightness. I ended up turning this off on the Mk.II and it looks like I'll end up doing the same here. It just doesn't seem to learn from being 'corrected' by the user, flies up and down at the drop of a hat, making for a frustrating user experience. Maybe I'll revisit this in time and see if it's just that the system needs an awful long learning period, but it never did get fixed in the Mk.II.

It also impacts the Always on Display as, unlike with other systems (Samsung is a prime example), there's no direct control of the brightness there. So you can't even turn the 'auto' off - and it keeps getting that wrong. The Always on Display otherwise is excellent and exactly the same as the Mk.II with that near-unique feature of showing full album-art of the playing music when the screen is off. The user doesn't have many clocks to choose from but the ones which are there are well thought out and attractive. Other than that, it's got the usual time, day, date, battery and notifications. It can be set to always on, Smart Activation (comes on when taking the device from a pocket etc.), when the phone is lifted or just off. 
From there, the lockscreen can be invoked by double tapping the AoD (if set) but lift-to-wake remains a missing link with Sony, as for the Mk.II. Odd, as it's an option for the AoD.

The stereo speakers, front-facing (another rare feature), produce an excellent sound - even better than the Mk.II. They are louder, more bass-orientated, clearer, so with better tone as we used to say! Furthermore, the Dynamic Vibration is better, too. It feels better tuned to the music and with stronger pulses in the right places. The slider works very well for intensity and that Bluetooth DV bug which I reported on widely seems not to be present. (When using DV and sending the sound to a Bluetooth speaker, the system used to get confused with previous models (until a recent update) continually buzzing the phone if engaged and producing a 'clonk' when first connected/engaged. Anyway, happy to see that's gone - even if I am the only person who wants to send music to an external speaker and yet still feel the vibrations!)

All the sound enhancement tools are present too, still with 24-bit output, the drill-down version of Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio, upscaling of music via DSEE Ultimate and so on. Plenty of tools for the audiophile to tinker with including the use of the 3.5mm audio-out socket (which is also a microphone-in, too). Using a wired set of reference headphones produces even better sound than the Mk.II. It seems l
ouder, with more bass and stereo separation. Not by huge amounts, but it’s there. May well be down to an upgraded DAC/amplifier, two years on.

Switch to Bluetooth to get all the clever Sony bells and whistles though, especially if you have a decent set of headphones - tested here with the WH-1000XM4 set. So many settings to play with, so many ways to adjust the sound as to how you want it - via the phone's settings or inside Sony's Headphones app, making the experience even more tweakable, immersive and with all the hooks included to talk to the Google Assistant, control the headphones and what they can do. Your mileage may vary with other headphones, but this whole Sony walled-garden is pretty addictive! Bluetooth is, to some degree, Bluetooth and I'm not surprised that I really can't tell much difference between the two phones two years on, like I could with the wired audio, above.

There's an additional app here for creators called Music Pro aimed at musicians, though it could be podcasters on the move or anyone else who wants to record high quality audio. This can be done via the built-in microphones (which also have a wind-filter setting for those out and about) but also by plugging in an external microphone - so quality is only limited by the gear in the loop. Talking of loops, that's one of the features which can be employed with Music Pro. I have been testing it by recording 'layers' of sound, each recording separately, one after the other, whilst the output can be heard on headphones. This allows for the creation of multi-layer audio, saved into projects and even post-edited on-screen.

It's certainly fun to play with but I'm not sure who would use it in the real world - music professionals are likely to have their own gear anyway. Maybe social media content creators on the move. If you want an even more 'professional' result, you can buy into Sony's cloud service, send up your audio and they'll 'Studio Tune' the result and send it back down to you with 'source separation, noise reduction, reverb elimination, studio microphone simulation' and so on. You get the idea! Currently charged out at £4.99 per month.

The side-mounted fingerprint capacitive scanner is quite superb. After many years of OEMs tinkering with this, position and technology, Sony have hit the nail on the head and seems to be wisely sticking with it. Working first time, every time - it's the perfect position, I contend - and best (if one of the oldest) technologies. A great move. Like with Pixels up to now, there's no Face Unlock which is a bit of a miss - as with both, security would be even better! Google seem to be rethinking that for Pixels this time round, so maybe it will make it into core Android sometime soon, so Sony and others will follow suit.

The 5,000mAh battery is also quite superb! In my 10% Reading Test I have been getting results of 2 hours and 45 minutes, second only to the Pixel 5 in the mainstream Android devices. It's a nice hike from the Mk.II's 4,000mAh which was no slouch (and the 4,500mAh of the Mk.III). For my average use it's getting me well past a day of use - in fact if pushed, heading towards two. To be fair, I'm not likely to push the battery like a heavy gamer, cinematographer or musician might, so I guess they might get different results. Even the biggest batteries will be depleted if you drive them into the ground! Bottom line though, for the average person's use it's very impressive.

There's no charger (or even cable) in the tiny box, incidentally, but the phone will charge at 30W (over 21W for the Mk.II) and that does make a difference if you need a quick boost. Testing that here with my 100W charger (presumably being capped at 30) I was able to half charge the battery from flat in about 35 minutes, then waiting for the second half to get it to 100% another hour or so. Not the fastest out there these days by a long shot, but an acceptable balance for battery protection, functionality and convenience. As for no charger or cable in the box - yes, OK, we get the Save the Planet stuff, but I'd feel a little cheated paying £949 for a phone and not even getting the basics. Hot topic!

Support is here for the first time in the 5-series for Qi wireless charging. So, plonk it on a charger whenever it's not in use and most people won't even have to think about battery running out, or even getting low. After hunting around on the internet chasing data, I think the wireless charging is capped at 15W (if the same as the 1 Mk.IV) but nobody seems to really know that for sure and Sony don’t seem to be saying. I guess that will make the included reverse wireless charging 5W. Whatever it is, it's great to have - particularly for overnight trickle charging, which the Mk.II needed a cable to achieve (or third-party coil). A great move, bringing this feature down from the 1-series.

HDMI-Out
(DisplayPort) is present, as it was down the line, to cable up with monitors and TVs via the USB-C 3.2 port without relying on wireless connections, routers, streaming or Mirroring and the like! It's a great feature for Sony to have retained (along with Samsung and a few others), certainly as it's becoming less available generally. Latency is a zero issue via this route and you get top quality instant results. One step further down the Samsung/Motorola path would have been some sort of DeX/Ready For facility so that these functions are not a screen 'echo' and you could similarly turn the phone's screen into a trackpad with a proper UI on the monitor/TV. Microsoft Phone Link works well enough, but just like the Mk.II did with no 'special' features afforded to Samsung phones.

Connectivity is excellent throughout with no doubt good components used. Cellular on 4G (I can't test the 5G, sadly) appears to be sound on testing in known 'flat' zones here with both call quality at both ends and data whilst out and about, Bluetooth is 5.2 and the range seems to be broad, GPS locks on quickly with various apps tested and holds onto the connection when needed, WiFi is excellent, tested here with a couple of home routers and my MiFi unit running off a 4G Router, NFC works very well. Equipment hooks up quickly and slickly and Google Pay now tested for payments down at Tesco with no issue!

The software experience is very much like the Mk.II device, if you discount for now the additional new software relating to Cinema Pro, Music Pro, Photo Pro and Video Pro. It's a clean Android version, the party slightly spoilt by the insane inclusion of a few apps that I guess Sony think everyone in the world will want! FaceBook and LinkedIn, which can't be uninstalled, TIDAL 3, which is presumably there to press people into trying 360 Reality Audio - but again, can't be uninstalled and Bravia Core the same. There is a dialogue during setup which lets you avoid other apps being installed - and at least now there's no huge games pre-installed as there was with the Mk.II - like Asphalt 9 and 2.5GB Play Store downloads lurking around to pounce on the unaware. There is of course Force Stop and Disable to get the apps out of line of sight, but I'd like to have seen these done away with generally. Especially the first two.

The rest of the software experience is very much like the Mk.II - as I say, a nice Vanilla feel to things with slight meandering from what Pixels would have, but with a bit more than an AndroidOne phone would offer, as with, for example, a Nokia. I won't repeat what I have said before because, as I say, much of it is the same or similar and can be read on my previous appraisals of the Sony Xperia 5 and subsequent comparison piece of the Sony Xperia 5 with the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.II so do click through. You don't get all the bells and whistles that you do with other manufacturers' software, but in some ways that's a good thing. Nice that there's space for all tastes - and one of the core strengths of Android's open nature and flexibility.

The basics of the camera setup have changed a little since the Mk.II with an experiment entered into during the Mk.III phase with a different optical two-step zoom with 3x/4.4x magnification. The Mk.II had a 3x optical zoom but this time, it's back down to 2.5x instead. They seem to be leaping all over the place to try and get the zoom element towards the sweet spot - though have been consistent with the three cameras, three lenses, all 12MP. The main shooter has remained the f1.7 unit with OIS throughout, the secondary telephoto at f2.4 (for the Mk.II and Mk.IV), again with OIS and the third wide-angle consistent at f2.2 since the Mk.II. The Zeiss Optics with T* lens coating is now consistent with only slight tweaks to video recording capability (4K at 120fps with OIS). The Selfie has become yet another 12MP sensor, f2, matching the other three, this time with enhanced 4K video shooting possible.

If you fire up the camera via the Photo Pro app icon, you land in Basic mode which lets you shoot in portrait if you want to, but as soon as you switch to anything other than Basic mode, it sweeps round into landscape and offers you the full range of manual settings via Auto, Program, Shutter Priority and Manual with only Aperture Priority missing from making this the whole Sony Alpha experience carried over from their camera range. There's loads of settings, dials and buttons to play with but is limited for casual snap-shooters in terms of what you'd get from a Pixel, iPhone or Samsung for point'n'shoot, AI-driven algorithm-based smart systems. This is not a system for 'most people' but rather a tool for enthusiasts and photographers. Again, I've covered much of this in previous reviews and in the Photo Pro app (and Cinema Pro) nothing has hugely changed since the Mk.II that I have not already mentioned or covered there.

What is new and has come across from the Sony Xperia 1-series is the Video Pro app and in my usual style, I'm going to hand over to the good folk at GSMArena to appraise this as they have done a better drill-down than I could and it'll give you a much better flavour of what's possible. So, they have Xperia 5 IV borrows a lot from Xperia 1 IV which covers Photo Pro, Cinema Pro and Video Pro and Photo and Video Quality drills down with loads of samples and videos of all four lenses (including the 4K Selfie) rounded up with an Xperia 5 Mk.IV vs Xperia 1 Mk.IV comparison. There's nothing groundbreaking here but rather a refined evolution and experience for the more seasoned photographer. The very one who will not only get the most from all these tools but also enjoy the process. Most people out there who just want great results from point'n'shoot will be frustrated and certainly better looking elsewhere for automation.

My colleague from Phones Show Chat, Steve Litchfield has posted some YouTube Shorts covering the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV Overview - Who's it for? and Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV - No Zoom Gap so do take a look at those. There will be more coming soon, especially as he compares the Sony Xperia 1 Mk.IV, so keep an eye on his YouTube Shorts Page. The most concerning thing about the extended use of the camera modes here is the warnings which pop up all over the place about overheating. I don't know if that's anything that in time can be fixed by software updates, but it's certainly at the very least an intrusion, impeding the progress of imaging professionals or serious gamers.

Last word goes to the physical shutter release button on the side of the phone, two-stage, proper 'green' focus area indicators and confirmation of focus too, just like a 'proper' camera would do. It's a joy to be able to use this and probably does more than anything here to make me, at least, feel like it's a phone for people coming from a camera-centric background. Well done Sony!

Sony are clearly aiming at not only traditional photographers, cinematographers, musicians here but also the new wave of VLoggers. Live streaming Gamers, TikTokkers, YouTube creators. They no doubt see where the future is in terms of video creation and have made their tools fit that mould, including output to external monitors, up to now not available on the 5-series. It all feels very much aimed at creators of all kinds and maybe also people with deep pockets - as getting into this is not cheap.

I came into this looking at whether or not there was enough here for me to seriously consider upgrading from the Mk.II which I already owned. The key points for me were about wireless charging, bigger battery, speakers output and Dynamic Vibration. And of course, price. I guess I'm not really the 'pro' target audience for this phone as I won't be VLogging, shooting a movie or even recording high quality audio (unless I'm in a tight squeeze one day for podcasting). My concern is that even if I was, I wonder if I'd really be buying into this when I would likely already have 'pro' gear set up (which would do a better job, no doubt). I think the people who would buy into it for these aspects are tech-aware and enthusiastic creators who just want to use it because they can. Also people like me, arriving via nostalgia for the love of cameras and yesteryear. And that audience is probably huge, especially within Sony-loving Japan and other areas of the far-east where people also have plenty of money to spend.

My key points are all met here - and exceeded. The Qi wireless charging makes a huge difference to me, pads littered around all over the place, the battery increase over the Mk.II is huge and makes a significant difference over the previous phone, which was not half bad anyway, the speakers' output is louder and better quality sound than the Mk.II and similarly, the Dynamic Vibration is better synchronised and stronger. I'm sold on this upgrade, as I think you can tell. If money was no object, I would consider £949 still good value here. For those who can make use of these elements and more, I do think it's not too far off the mark. £849 would have been much better of course. As I said above, I was able to get mine second-hand (for when Sony PR unit has to go back) so have worked in the finance for myself with the sale of other gear!

Laying aside my base criteria though, there's an awful lot more to like here. Much of it is indeed an improvement over previous models, evolutionary as it may be. I really like the 'boxy' design following the 1-series over the 'rounded' of the Mk.II, the OLED panel is significantly brighter and more colourful, for those who will make use of it (and in keeping with the creation theme) the 4K Selfie will be a great bonus - and for me, the fixed optical 2.5x zoom camera is a much better compromise than tinkering with hybrid zooms or relying on clever post-shot software, however good it is. Most of all though, and the same as for the Mk.II pretty much, is the compactness of the phone. There are not that many phones out there which are true flagships, no compromises from bigger siblings, which retain a dinky, pocketable design remaining good for one-handed use. Usually there are indeed a few payoffs. Here, there are none.

It's a gorgeous little phone and slice of technology, which I'm hoping that over time I will use more and more, learning about the features which feel, at the moment, are for other users. Dare I suggest that this might, even, get me back into photography? We'll see! But for now, it's a worthy upgrade and highly recommended for the right users.

Monday, 17 October 2022

Pieces of a Woman (2020)

The background to this film lies in the real life tragic event of the writer, Kata Wéber and director husband Kornél Mundruczó in Hungary. It's been adapted and dramatised from their real-life story in order to make a USA-based Netflix film and it really is very well produced.

We start with a long sequence as Martha is giving birth to a baby daughter alongside her partner Sean. It's a harrowing, long-winded, troublesome sequence which appears to have been shot in one take. She wants to give birth at home, so a midwife, standing in for her regular one, attends. Tragedy strikes - the child is born, but then lost.

The film then starts to open up various insights into Martha's life, her mother, sister, partner and how they all, but mainly Martha and Sean, attempt to deal with the loss. As you would imagine, there's huge impacts on the lives of everyone involved and we follow the pair closely as their lives begin to fall apart.

There's a side story being told about the midwife and how she is being hauled up in court as those impacted seem to want to string her up for gross professional misconduct, when it really was very questionable as to whether or not she could have done any thing differently to change the outcome of the event. In a growing blame culture, that turned into a national witch-hunt which the press were all over - though actually, that part of the film is very much secondary to us following the mourning, broken lives and portrait of those centrally dealing with the loss.

Vanessa Kirby (The Crown) is excellent in her central role alongside Shia LaBeouf (Fury, The Tax Collector) as they both portray the emotional roller-coaster ride from the joy of childbirth to the tragedy which awaits them. The supporting cast is also very convincing with the very experienced Ellen Burstyn picking up the role of Martha's mum.

There are lots of sub-plots and interesting asides going on such as the recurring theme of Apples, reflecting life and growth, the mother's experience in infancy during the holocaust and the resulting strength that she gained, her now fading memory with signs of the approaching end of her life, her manipulative behaviour to some around her - using money as a wrench and Sean's previous life of addiction threatening to surface once more.

It's a beautifully constructed film which could so easily have descended into a soppy weepie, but it doesn't. It's smart and intelligent, telling the tale as the audience gets alongside the main players, feeling the impact of their destroyed lives as they distance themselves from others around them.

It's also a story of hope, through the tragedy, as people seek to find a way back and, like the apples, generate new growth. There's no doubt that the most impactful scene of the film is that opening one though, which makes open-eyed engagement for the viewer as we watch the very difficult time everyone involved is having with the birth of the child.

It's still on Netflix as I write, so do give it a go.

Sunday, 16 October 2022

The Innocents (2021) - De uskyldige

The Innocents is a Scandinavian film shot in the Norwegian language and is verging on being a horror, really. A pretty low-key horror, but that remains the best word to use I think. Created by the relatively inexperienced writer/director Eskil Vogt it certainly has plenty going for it and he has drawn the very best out of the young cast.

We join the story in a housing estate in a city where we dip into the lives of a bunch of children living in various apartments, blocks of flats. In the middle there's a playground where many of them spend much of their time. Our central family has two girls, one younger girl called Ida and her sister, who has autism, Anna. They live with mum and dad. Across the way, we have a young boy (Ben) who also lives with his mum and another little girl (Aisha) who lives with her mum. These make up the main characters.

The characters hang out together and Ben starts to show the others some 'magic' tricks, which verge on the supernatural. Things develop and it turns out that eventually, he's able to control events around him with his mind and starts to put that to use. Autistic Anna develops a connection with him and seems to have developed similar abilities, challenging his dominant position in the group. Ben is starting to do naughty stuff and Anna is trying to rein him back in, in their struggle. Before any of supernatural stuff started, we see Ben and Ida 'playing' together doing nasty things to animals, Ben leading, cruelty and violence the outcome.

Anna is unable to talk because of her condition, but this seems to rely on a connection also telepathically with Aisha where the latter 'leads' her speech, telling her what to say even though she's nowhere near her. So yes, there's a bunch of spooky kids starting to do a bunch of spooky things, leading to catastrophic events and acts of more violence. Ben gets more and more out of control, leading to one particularly shocking event, and only the presence of Anna seems to hold him back from being even worse.

Through all this, the viewer really warms to the kids' characters and wants to see the best outcomes for them, even though they are mostly twisted, supernatural and nasty! It's an intelligent horror film with similarities in some ways to the excellent 2008 film Let the Right One In. Smart, thoughtful, measured and well delivered, not relying on daft jump-scare moments.

The kids are really well picked for the roles and remain convincing throughout, particularly Rakel Lenora Fløttum in the lead as Ida. (Incidentally, she and her mum in the film, Ellen Dorrit Petersen are also real-life mum and daughter too.) Playing tricks with their faces, looks to camera, spooky eyes and smiles - they've clearly been well-coached and all come across very well. It's an excellent film which is now available on various streaming services in the UK and really is well worth tracking down.

Thursday, 13 October 2022

OnePlus Nord 2 5G

Continuing with the theme of second-hand phone a year later, I was able to secure the 256GB storage and 12GB RAM version of the OnePlus Nord 2 for well less than half the release price RRP which was £469 here in the UK. It's always worth looking out for alternatives in terms of pricing and doing our bit for the planet.

One of the big issues when buying a used phone is about how long the OEM is going to support it with OS and Security updates. This phone is just a year old as I write and OnePlus just this week have updated the OS to Android 12, the OxygenOS to v12 and updated the Google Security patching to May 2022. So it's taken longer than many to get to Android 12, but not all. The firm also promise that this will be updated to Android 13, so presumably about this time next year. Security updates are a bit more hit'n'miss, but seem to be quarterly'ish!

So yes, it's a year old but has decent specs, ensuring validity going forward for at least another couple of years. There's a MediaTek Dimensity 1200 (6nm) chipset which flies along nicely, even with reasonably demanding gaming and has been kind-of compared to the SnapDragon 865 or 870 - so no slouch.

I was pleased to get the 256GB version as there's no microSD card for storage expansion with this model, but you could also get a range of other specs - 128GB/6GB/8GB, 256GB/8GB/12GB - so plenty of options and price-points. The storage is also UFS 3.1 so plenty fast enough read/write speeds for those likely to be drumming their fingers on a desk! This one also has 12GB RAM which keeps multi-tasking flying and plenty of apps surviving before closing down to make room for new.

I was also attracted to the phone by the unit's size. In a mountain of 6.67" devices pouring out of China, this one bucks the trend with a more manageable 6.43". It doesn't sound like much of a difference, but in practice and for one-handed execution of tasks, it is. It's no Pixel 5 of course and is often still a stretch for some things, but I'm generally finding it more favourable here than most.

The front screen is a 'fluid' AMOLED panel with a refresh rate of 60 or 90Hz (but no Auto), 1080p, 20:9 ratio and returning just over 400ppi. It's protected with Gorilla Glass 5, which as we know, is pretty good against shatters but not so hot on micro-scratches (though none here yet that I can see). The screen looks nicely bright and colourful, with adjustments in settings to fine-tweak colours and temperature for those who care enough to genuinely be able to tell the difference. It's no Motorola Edge+ (2020) bright/colourful, but it's perfectly good enough.

I was waiting to share my thoughts on the Nord 2 until Android 12 arrived along with OxygenOS 12 to see how much difference the departmental merger with Oppo had made and how ColorOS the UI had become. The news is that yes, there are tweaks here and there that are borrowed from ColorOS (like some of the available Always on Display and Dark Mode settings) but my general impression is that the changes are fairly positive, passive and not intrusive. The sharing has worked both ways of course as Oppo now benefits from on-screen gestures to control media playback and other OnePlus features. I guess that eventually they will merge completely and be as one. Having said all this, I'm not a hard-line OnePlus user who knows the previous UI intimately but have read online that there is some upset in some quarters from the brand-faithful over what's been done here and there.

Before I get any further, perhaps a look at the physical though. The colour of this example is Grey Sierra, the dullest and most boring of the alternatives. Very John Major! There's also Blue Haze, Green Wood and even a Pac-Man edition for fans - or the adventurous! The back is also Gorilla Glass 5 and the frame joining front and back, plastic, although there's an aluminium shell inside. There's a 1+ logo on the middle of the back and a camera-cluster/island top-left in portrait. The island sits up by a millimetre with a nicely chamfered aluminium edge and then the two lenses, by another millimetre, from that.

On the left is a volume rocker and nothing else. Up the top there's nothing apart from a microphone, bottom has a central USB-C port, speaker, microphone and double-sided SIM Card Tray and on the right, a power-button (quite high up) and Alert Slider, for a quick switch from Mute to Vibrate to Audible, iPhone style. Great to see this surviving - in the same bracket as Sony's shutter button. Long may it last. The buttons all feel well-made, firm and not floppy.

The front glass is flat and there's very little bezel around that screen. A tad more for the chin, but not much in it. There's a selfie-cam round-hole top-left which can be hidden in settings (by bringing the line of the usable screen down in the usual way) but as I've said before, most humans seem to have brains that will soon not see it and cut it from their view. There's a second speaker firing frontwards at the top doubling up as an earpiece for phone calls.

It's a lovely little phone in the hand, slim, not too big, as I say - I can meet my finger/thumb round the waist and even reach up to the top of the screen (both when there's no case in place). It feels very well made, not too heavy at 189g, robust and like it'll survive in real-world use. There is, however, no formal IP-rating here although I notice that the SIM Card Tray has a rubber seal around the door. Compared to other phones I happen to have to hand, it's a tad wider and centimetre taller than the Pixel 5 but less wide and a centimetre shorter than the Xiaomi Note 10S. I'd be quite happy using it (for size) with no case on, but with even the thinnest of TPU coverings (like the one which comes in the box), it makes it just a bit too big.

Talking of the box, it's a bit of a beast - so much for eco-friendly! There's a USB-C to USB-A 6.5A cable in there alongside the usual papery bits and the aforementioned simple clear TPU, but the headline is the included 65W Warp Charger which they claim charges the phone's 4,500mAh battery (actually, it's two batteries, 2,250mAh each) from flat to full in about half an hour. And it does seem to! However, as I found with Oppo's SuperVOOC charger and the Oppo Find X3 Pro, you don't get Warp charging speeds unless you use the supplied gear. I've tried it here with a 100W charger and a 45W unit and it still charges pretty quickly, just not as quickly! Battery performance seems very good with no struggles getting me through a whole day and beyond. My 10% Reading Test gives me almost 2 hours, which is pretty good compared to others with a similarly-sized battery.

OnePlus' implementation of their AI (learning) Optimised Night/Sleep Standby Charging settings is a bit tricky. I tried to use all this AI stuff with a Sony Xperia but found it took too long to learn and just screwed with my schedule, pattern and brain, so just turned it off for a happier life! There's no wireless charging here, but that can be added with my £12 Amazon Qi coil, as always. Great for slow, overnight bedside, protect-the-battery trickle-charging.

Unlock security is handled by an under-glass optical fingerprint scanner, which is very low on the glass and off by default even when the AoD is shown - it goes away after a few seconds (even with the settings switch thrown to prevent it)! It's quick to register and seems to work pretty well. Nothing like capacitive, but as they go, it seems well done. There is a tiny 'lag' as always in comparison, but it's ably supported by face-unlock, much like other solutions out there - so half the time you don't know if it's your face or finger that's actually done the job! There is a less-robust security issue with face-unlock, as we know, but like many things in life, there's a balance to be had between convenience, security and paranoia!

The stereo speakers I mentioned before offer the usual 'unbalanced' audio when heard in isolation from each other (so blocking one speaker at a time) but placed in front of the face, a foot or eighteen inches away, OnePlus have done a good job of emulating proper stereo, so that most people wouldn't notice. The bottom is right and top, left - this doesn't turn around when flipping the phone over. The volume is actually very good and loud enough for most people. The output leans a little to the top-end as is often the case with all but the best phones, not particularly helped by the system-wide 'Dirac Audio Tuner' which, like many phones, offers basic settings of Auto, Music, Game or Movie. I found Movie to be most pleasing. Beyond that, you're into app-based equalisers. I tested that with PowerAmp and got myself very pleasing results - not squishing the volume too much in the process so providing a good loud output.

There's no 3.5mm Audio-Out here either, so you're into USB-C ear/headphones or dongles. As usual, I tried to test this with the cheapest, most basic items I have here - though of course whatever you use, you're muddying the waters with other gears' attributes. Testing here, then, with AKG K701 reference headphones and Nokia 8 Sirocco 3.5mm to USB-C dongle. First reaction is that it's not very loud. I'm on 100% and could certainly use more. Quality is pretty good however, and as if by magic, a new bunch of settings pop up in the Dirac Audio Tuner dubbed Real HD Sound. Flip this switch on and off for a significant difference as you move between the four base settings or play with the equaliser pre-sets or tweak the sliders manually. Only fly in the ointment really is for those with very basic ear/headphones and no fancy DAC dongle, for volume. But I guess they'll switch to bluetooth anyway, like most people these days.

Testing the Bluetooth 5.2 on offer here with a pair of Marshall Major IV's transforms the experience as we have come to expect with stunning quality and volume (to my ears). An interesting development in the process though was a big notice coming up saying that Dirac Audio Tuner is currently not supported for Bluetooth. So no equalisation, adjustments or anything outside of the music app's own facilities to adjust. But it sounds so good anyway, I'm sure nobody will care! Or perhaps it's something Dirac, Dolby, Bluetooth and Co. are working on.

The Always on Display which I mentioned briefly above is a proper 'always' on version if the user chooses it to be so (looking at you Xiaomi)! Alternative options are Power saving - so it goes off until movement is detected or Scheduled, so set hours of it being 'always' on - which I guess most people would set to be off at night. The time I want it most! Anyway, great to have it available - and now with added options for the display. Various clocks, though not as many as Samsung with their user-selection too, various emoji-based stuff and that 'Canvas' one where you offer it a picture (portrait works best, they say) and it generates a line-drawing of the outline (of the portrait), even then editable, and will add that to the AoD. I did have a problem with the AoD in that it seems to turn itself off after a period of 'darkness' - so difficult to use as a night-clock - and digging further into this, like Oppo in ColorOS it seems that BBK have added this as a battery-saving 'feature' and there's nothing much that can be done about it (except to turn it off and install Always on AMOLED)!

Connectivity seems good with 4G cellular (can't test 5G here) hooking up well and hanging on for voice or data. Same goes for GPS for any Mapping (or other) apps I tested. I didn't test NFC for Google Pay but it seems to work as designed for connecting other equipment and so forth. WiFi, similarly hooks up quickly to various routers tried here and hangs on well to the connection. The 256GB storage seems to work well with read/writes and when plugging in a microSD or SSD to the USB-C socket, similar results are experienced, all depending on class of media of course.

Sadly, there's no HDMI-Out here for sending media to the telly, but BBK have released a Windows-based programme called Multi-Screen Connect aiming for Samsung's DeX, Motorola's Ready For or, more likely, Microsoft's Phone Link. It's a bit of a fiddle to set up and get going, but when you do (via WiFi or BT), you can get control of the phone on a Windows PC and open multiple windows for different apps. It even allows for pass-through audio to be controlled by Windows (which even Phone Link does not). It feels like a bit of a cludge to be honest, a work in progress, to be revisited maybe later.

OxygenOS offers many bells and whistles, but in a Vanilla kind-of way, if that makes sense! Very much like how Cyanogen used to, or Sony does, Nokia or Motorola. Take the base-line Android, don't move too far away from it but add some useful features often not included in the core experience. Horizon Light is one of them, which gives a (very basic) version of Samsung's Edge Lighting and Icon Packs are available to change up the look/feel beyond what Android 12 does. Those screen-off gestures have survived the journey towards ColorOS too (in fact, adopted by the latter too) so you can, for example, draw a 'O' to open the camera, chevrons to control music playback and so on - lots of options. There's a Quick Launch feature from the on-screen fingerprint scanner which you can long-press from screen-off, hold it there and up pops some quick shortcuts to what apps you assign in Settings.

We could have done without Zen Mode however, which scarily locks up your phone for the assigned time set with absolutely no way to escape the countdown timer (apart from making/taking emergency calls). There are some doubled-up apps which really aren't needed with Google's available anyway - still, some might like to use them I guess. Calculator, Clock, My Files, Notes, Photos and Weather seems to make up the list. Fortunately there's a Hide Apps function so users can tuck them away and not see them.

The cameras supplied with the phone are a 50MP f/1.9 main shooter with OIS, 8MP f/2.3 wide-angle, 2MP f/2.5 depth-sensor and 32MP f/2.5 Selfie round the front. There are various shooting modes which make use of some or all of those including a shot at a Night Mode, which seemed to impress me making very dark corners of rooms or night-time building scenes pull out more light than expected. I'm sure those who pixel-peep would pick fault, but for the rest of us, we can get very usable photos when we really shouldn't be able to. There's no optical zoom here, so any enlargement of parts of the frame are digital crops, but, again, if you don't go too mad you can still get usable photos at, say 5x. Portrait mode produces some pleasing results in my tests and there are other options like Time-Lapse, Slo-Mo, Extra HD and Pro mode for greater control. As usual though, I'm not going to try and compete with those drilling down with magnifying glasses, rather provide a link here to the GSMArena blow-by-blow with samples for those who feel the need to push the envelope.

In summary, the OnePlus Nord 2 is a cracking little phone. I wish they would be more prompt with software updates, both OS and Security, but they do get there eventually it seems. It's really nicely made with loads of RAM a decent-enough chipset to keep things rolling along very smoothly, whatever you seem to throw at it. The OxygenOS (with tinctures of ColorOS) is distinctive, not too far removed from a 'stock' experience, and what has been added is generally beneficial.

The battery life is more than adequate, speakers are loud-enough, connectivity good on all counts, it has a good bright and colourful screen, Always on Display, good and fast charging (with the supplied gear) - in fact, there's very little not to like here - topped off with the Alert Slider. The price I paid for it, a year down the line, was the cherry on the cake - but even new, it was clearly well worth the £469 (for this configuration). It's certainly a mid-ranger pretending to be a flagship - and very convincing it is. Recommended.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of September 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!


Whatever Works
Episode 169 - Pentinculated Globes!
Friday 2nd September
An invitation to join, er, have joined, Aidan and I, er, last week, this week. Keep up at the back! 😂 ...laying aside the Transporter Room and Dr Who claptrap, we're back, or were back, with another roundup of Whatever Works for us and you! Plenty to chew over as usual, from inflatable tents and tea-bag squeezers (ooerr) to Airwolf flight and beer mugs! Come and join us for much more and a right ol' hoot! Why would you not?!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 711 - Dual Approach!
Saturday 3rd September
It's PSC time again and this week Steve and I welcome Ian Bundey back to catch up with what gear he's using and why. Plenty of other stuff too, including flipping and folding, Sony's strategy, becoming Experts in RAW and replacement batteries.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 4th September
Gareth and I back again this week with no power cuts, no severed cables and no holidays! Yours for the full 2 hours and more 😁 This week we check out the IFA2022 highlights, wonder what Samsung and Sony are up to, delve into USB4 v2, consider what 'variable aperture' actually means for Huawei, Glance at Widgets and de-crackle your weekend!

Projector Room
Episode 120 - Spiral Commitments
Tuesday 6th August
Gareth, Allan and I are back a day or two early this week. Aren't you lucky! 😂 This time, in our natter about all things film, cinema and TV we're Divorcing Jack in Ireland, spilling Blood in the Water, Loving Adults, picking The Odd Man Out from our Circle of Friends and loads more as usual.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 712 - Sceptical Island!
Saturday 10th September
This weekend Steve and I welcome back James Honeyball to talk about this Apple-heavy week of announcements as the pair of them decide on their purchases! Meanwhile, I continue to Flip away, with one eye on Pixel and Sony.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 11th September
We're back again, battling the Sunday morning hangovers to bring you this week's slice of tech twaddle! Gareth and I here with our thoughts on Apple, China, letterbox screens, Sony at play, ChromeOS, pocket computing, Nexus 7 and loads more.

Whatever Works
Episode 170 - Pentinculated Globes!
Friday 16th September
It's that fortnightly fiddle and firk time again as Aidan and I delve into the Wonderful World of Whatever Works, for us and you! Lots of goodies as usual - Aidan oils the gears on his heating plan, we stick frogs to the wall, have jungle beasts make our tea, drip-drip our coffee and even explore washing laundry by hand. Do join us for an hour of fun and frolics!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 17th September
Steve and I are joined again by Andy Large this week as we catch up with him on all things mobile phone, where he's at, what he's using and likes the look of. Plenty of good stuff as always from iOS16 and iPhone 14 to Sony Gaming and robotic switches!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 18th September
Join Gareth and I again this weekend as we trail through the tech. This week we go all Gaming with Sony, remember reel-to-reel, reminisce about the Nexus One, wonder why Nokia hates the UK, go all Dynamic Island on Android, chase the modern-day GameBoy and oodles more!

Projector Room
Episode 121 - New Wave Goodbye
Wednesday 21st September
Allan is MIA this time so Steve steps in to join Gareth and I with our fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. We Capture the Centre Seat at the End of the Road, wishing we'd not taken a trip to Lorenskog! Scotland treats aplenty and a trip to Katla providing a nice surprise For All Mankind.

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 24th September
A masterclass in post-production editing here from Steve after most things that could have gone wrong, did! Never mind though, as we do salvage the thoughts of Dan Carter in a shorter-than-usual show.

Whatever Works
Episode 171 - Obsidian Orientools!
Friday 30th September
Aidan and I are back to natter once again for an hour about Whatever Works for us and you. This time we're in Sick Bay as we consider the Oximeter, Vitamin D and the odd crutch-holder or two! Plenty of time left to swat flies, rice potatoes and rack rulers!

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...