Friday 29 December 2023

Chinese Puzzle (2013)

This is a super little romantic comedy of errors a cut above most others. I tuned in to see Audrey Tautou really, who turns out not to be one of the primary cast. She’s in it a fair amount, steals the scenes when she is, but it’s the other players who get the lion’s share. It has a real Woody Allen feel about it, supported by the very deep hooks into European culture, multi-language and focus on-location in New York. I think he’d have been proud of it and is a big fan.

So, complicated it is - as we start with our main man Xavier married to American Wendy, living in Paris with their two kids. She gets some work in NY and whilst there falls for John, ends up staying there, marrying John and eventually bringing the two kids. Xavier can’t stand this, so also moves to NY to be near the kids. He stays with a French ex-girlfriend Isabelle, living in NY who is now gay, and desperately wants a child with her American partner Ju - so guess who’s up for the job of supplying the necessary!

Meanwhile, Isabelle falls for the young babysitter girl, also called Isabelle, and Xavier has to dance the merry dance in order to keep Ju from finding out what the two Isabelle’s are up to! In amongst all this, Martine, another French ex of Xavier’s turns up visiting NY with eyes on snagging Xavier back for herself. And to top it all, Xavier has to marry an American person in order to stay in the country, which he does on the back of an Asian family owing him a favour for saving their uncle’s life in a street altercation.

Confused?! Yes, it’s a rip-roaring comedy of errors, as I say, with some great scenes scripted and executed. The funniest of which is probably the meeting Martine (Tautou) has with a board of Chinese directors as she tries to sell them her ideas about tea, where, for comic impact, she suddenly starts speaking in their language to them, no subtitles for us, just to watch what transpires. Very funny.

Then there’s the Immigration officer who’s trying to make sure that Xavier’s marriage to Asian Nancy is not an arranged one, which it is, so everyone’s leaping about in order to not get caught out on that front!

Anyway, it’s all very funny. Romain Duris is excellent in the lead as Xavier, Tautou supports beautifully, Kelly Reilly, Cécile de France and Sandrine Holt do likewise along with the rest of the excellently appointed cast, especially the 4 kids!

Apparently it’s the 3rd part of a trilogy of films by director/writer Cédric Klapisch, so I must see the other two now, Pot Luck (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005), even though I seem to have done it the wrong way around! This one is funny, engaging, cute, romantic, off-the-wall potty but also at times moving and thoughtful, as Xavier reflects on the meaning of life and his role within it. Life. Highly recommended.

Addendum ...on further inspection, it seems that the first two parts of this trilogy of films have a very similar character line-up and even actors, to some degree. So it looks like I really have jumped the gun on this, watching the last, first. Bit late now. Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted! Oh well, I'll still track 'em down!

Thursday 30 November 2023

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of November 2023

...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 149 - Old Dads' Bodies
Wednesday 1st November
Gareth, Allan and I are back with another roundup of goodies from film, cinema and TV. This time we focus on the work of Jodie Foster, Matthew Perry and Richard Roundtree, Shaft 12 Angry Men in an Impossible Mission, travel back to Finland and oodles more.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 774 - Phone Manufacturers that Begin with 'S'
Saturday 4th November
Steve and I are joined again this week by Steve Nutt who chats with us about accessibility with folding devices, having tested it out now. We also talk about Sony's Xperia phones again, Pixel Fold, Surface Duo 2 and oodles of other stuff. Available in the usual places, so do join us for an hour.

Whatever Works
Episode 196 - Piaggio Motocompacto!
Wednesday 8th November
Aidan and I are back again for more fun and frivolity as we delve into the Wonderful World of Whatever Works! Plenty of clap-trap as usual amongst pearls from us and you. Heated gloves, Ladder Mats, Steam engines from coffee, towel holders, deck shoes - something for everyone. Yes - even you! So do join us for an hour when you run out of anything sensible to do!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 775 - Xtreme Xiaomi and Diabolical Doogee
Saturday 11th November
Steve and I bring you Adrian Brain this week as we delve deep into some interesting and different topics - along with the usual suspects about what we're up to. Yes, a Doogee with a 22,000mAh Battery!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Where the EE Roam
Sunday 12th November
Gareth and I are roamin' around this time for free while EE charges for it, Steamdeck OLED, Nintendo, .ing domains, Tab S9 FE, Doogee tablets, Anker Aerofit, HMD and Nokia devices, Oppo Find N3, Sony A9 III, Samsung Active5, WhatsApp ads, Facebook and Instagram subscriptions - another packed show again this fortnight (not Fortnite)!

Projector Room
Episode 150 - The Killer Fingernails
Wednesday 15th November
Gareth, Allan and I are here again to bring you our thoughts on what we, and you, have been watching in film, cinema and TV. We focus on the work of David Thewlis, go Divorcing Jack, take a Sly look at Dead Snow and loads more. So Get Out and about with Us and don't say Nope to a couple of hours of good natter.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 776 - From Mini to Max in MagSafe
Saturday 18th November
Steve and I are joined again by Jon Trimmer this week as we chat about the devices he's using lately with a focus on folding again and the OnePlus Open in particular. Lots of other stuff as usual.

Whatever Works
Episode 197 - Santa's Fluffs!
Wednesday 22nd November
Aidan and me, back again, to bring you an hour of confusion, nonsense, chaos and mayhem! So break out your brolly as we shower you with a deluge of do-do!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 777 - The Pixel Fold Special
Saturday 25th November
This week Steve and I welcome back Jim Fowl to chat about the Pixel Fold as we've all three now had hands-on, shoved and shuffled it around! Other stuff too, including a 2014 phone and even an iPod Touch!

Projector Room
Episode 151 - Napoleon's Crown
Wednesday 29th November
Allan, Gareth and I are back again with our fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time Gareth launches into his deep appreciation of all things Bruce Campbell in Themed Treats, we get a Locked In Private Screening, go bonkers with a Jaws Parody, consider the American-sounding Bonaparte and share divided views on all things royal!

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

Thursday 16 November 2023

Fingernails (2023)

In order to avoid divorce, time wasting and bad choices, this sci-fi'ish love story/drama paints a picture of a world where couples can get tested to see if they're compatible with each other. To see if there is true love.

They do this by attending a course (series of practical and emotional tasks together) then having a fingernail ripped off so they can have it put in some futuristic machine with the computer giving the result. 100% means both are in love, 50% means only one of them is in love (but it's not known which) and 0% means neither. As you might expect!

I think it's 1980's America and Anna and Ryan have had this test done some years back and are 100%. Incidentally, the vast majority of people don't get 100% so the course/test is not taken lightly - only people who really want to know (and fancy the torture) get involved.

Anna is restless though, questioning the science. She decides to go and work in the place where they do the course/testing and seems to fall for a work colleague there, Amir, putting into question even more her confidence and understanding of the process and outcomes. And apparently, he, her.

So it's quite simple really, as the love story is built around the science. Being in a stable (and scientifically approved/confirmed) relationship but being able to think outside the box, she's susceptible to her feelings and emotions - and thereby questioning the whole basis of what's going on.

So we then follow Amir and Anna, working in-team at the institute, helping their clients through the tasks as they get closer and closer, both knowing that she, at least, has a 100% reading with her current partner - and apparently, him too. We get inside her head as the camera follows her behaviour and thoughts, written all over her face, falling deeper, getting more confused, and as she tries to hide it from Ryan.

It's a slow, but well-paced drama from Greek director Christos Nikou in his first English language film, following Apples (2020). It's thoughtful and laid-back, beautifully presented through great acting by the leads (Jessie Buckley can do no wrong - she’s so cute!), nicely-measured cinematography and supported by some great 1980's music setting the scene.

It's also a bit absurd as a notion, I guess. The ripping off of people's fingernails is presented in the film indirectly, but gets the viewer close enough to the event to induce a sharp intake of breath and furrowed brow, at the very least! If you can stomach that and fancy a slow but thoughtful sci-fi'ish drama, worth a look, I say!

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Je t'aime moi non plus (1976)

In the wake of the death of Jane Birkin I decided to watch one of the films she was in, a controversial one from 1976 which was directed and written by her husband Serge Gainsbourg. Controversial thematically (for the time), fairly graphic sexual scenes and nudity.

Birkin was very thin at this time and the director exploited this, staging her as a waitress in a bar in France, the abusive owner Boris (Reinhard Kolldehoff) of which had decided that should be called ‘Johnny’ as in his view she looked thin, flat-chested, short-haired and much like a boy. She’s seeking something in life more than her dull existence working in a bar and first stop would be a meaningful relationship it seems.

Along come muscular gay couple Krass (Joe Dallesandro) and Padovan (Hugues Quester), who are working on a truck moving rubbish they collect to a landfill. Krass instantly assumes that Johnny is a boy but then it’s too late for him as it was love/lust at first sight. The boss warns her that he’s gay and jealous Padovan goes to great lengths to derail his intentions towards her, but neither of them are to put off. We then enter a phase of the film where the pair of them are trying to find a way round his lack of interest in females, her frustration in that she can’t arouse him and the resulting graphicly delivered compromise they come to, you can imagine, as she cries out in pain during sex.

Birkins character is abused in most ways by all around her throughout the length of this twisted romantic film, which is largely why it became controversial back in the day. It’s not very well made, comes across as very low-budget (which maybe it was) and says much more about the abusive relationships on show than anything else. Johnny doesn’t care about all this because she’s fallen in love. Krass is also in love but just can’t find a way to throw himself into the relationship fully when sexual satisfaction remains aloof.

The film reflects attitudes by some men towards women and the way in which they can end up accepting whatever is thrown at them because of being driven by other motivators. A kind of Stockholm Syndrome, I guess. The film is all in French with subtitles, but there’s really not a massive amount of dialogue. The music is interesting for sure, with sequences accompanied by banjo, slightly mistuned piano - with the setting of a hot, dusty, rural France in summer, it has the feel of a Western about it.

The actors, especially Birkin, do really well as they portray this savage story. She’s very pretty and the viewer really gets onside with her, rooting for a positive outcome for her, which seem mostly throughout the film very unlikely to arrive. In the middle of all this, a very young-looking Gerard Depardieu pops up in a cameo and there’s a bizarre ‘Saturday Night Dance’ sequence which turns from a dance into a striptease competition for the local girls, orchestrated by the decidedly seedy-behaving Boris!

I’m not sure that I get all the tones and underlying messages or themes going on here from Gainsbourg but it certainly was a very interesting watch and if you can stomach the abuse, sexual activity and nudity, there’s a sad and sweet story here at the core, which Birkin portrays extremely competently.

The Last Vermeer (2019)

This is a Dan Friedkin (Dunkirk) film based on the true story (and 2008 book, The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez) of Han Van Meegeren who was an artist living in occupied Holland throughout WWII and now, post-war, being accused of collaborating and conspiring with the Nazis.

Guy Pearce (The Infernal Machine) plays the artist superbly well in every respect as he camps about like he’s Oscar Wilde with fancy speech, attire and looks. Claes Bang plays Joseph Piller, a (Jewish) soldier charged with the task of reclaiming art treasures stolen by the Nazis and weeding out Dutch people who have sold it to them during the war - and Van Meegeren falls within his radar during his investigations. It becomes clear though that some Dutch government officials have their own ideas about the actions of the military and want to do things their own way, with an apparent agenda of their own - wanting the world to leave them to their own devices.

There’s lots of evidence growing against Van Meegeren but Piller becomes convinced that he’s actually innocent and ends up protecting the man against abuse from the public and the other officials as he takes up his case. In the end, he engages a lawyer and takes the case to court where he tries to demonstrate the innocence of the flamboyant artist at the centre.

It’s very nicely shot, directed and produced as the slow start gathers pace and never lets up really until the finale, when all is revealed and we find out the truth of the matter. Or do we? I guess some dramatic licence has been taken and it’s not all exactly as history would have it, but certainly it looks like the main characters existed and core hub of the story is based on the truth of the matter.

Certainly worth a look as it’s well acted and presented, makes for a compelling story and Guy Pearce commands throughout. Recommended.

Blood & Gold (2023)

If you’ve seen Sisu recently, you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect here! It’s a modern-day Western set at the tail end of WWII. We join the story when an SS troop is doling out their own style of justice to a soldier who has been caught deserting (even though the war is clearly over). The soldier escapes and heads for shelter in a country shack inhabited by a young woman and her brother with learning disabilities.

The troop happen upon them there whilst looking for supplies as they try to find gold, allegedly hidden somewhere in a village by the locals. They go about brutally treating the locals to find clues as to where it is, so they can get rich and flee.

In the meantime, they snatch the young woman (for the pleasure of the senior officer) and out hero is out to rescue her, stop the troop from their bad deeds and doll out some punishment of his own in the process! It’s complete bloody mayhem and chaos from start to finish, though with more of a storyline than Sisu.

The senior officer is not really very convincing. He looks like an actor who has been made up to look as menacing as possible (with face-mask and all hiding half a hideous face beneath) but isn’t quite pulling it off. The job, that is - not the mask! The actor used just doesn’t look nasty enough and is unable to hold himself in the remarkable way that Christoph Waltz did as the officer in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, chilling the viewer to the bone. Still, I guess there was a much smaller budget here!

Anyway, our soldier’s family has been killed except for his daughter who he needs ultimately to rescue. In the process, there’s a kind of half-baked love story going on as the chemistry develops between him and the young girl. All of this is just a cloak really to distract from the violence and disaster going on around the characters culminating in a ludicrously over-the-top showdown (High Noon?) and bloody finale before we find out if there’s a Hollywood Ending or not!

It’s all good fun, worth a watch - it’s in German, so with dubbing or subtitles (at least if you watch it on Netflix) - but don’t expect too much quality! A good romp, as they say. Apparently it’s called ‘Nazisplotation’ (like Sisu) where none of it matters as it’s ‘only’ Nazi soldiers being blitzed, suggestion being that they’re not people. A debate for another day.

Stuff on my Phone that I Don't Use (or Want)

Is it annoying that all the bells’n’whistles in a Samsung phone/device are there, using resources up, when one has no interest in using them. If so, what does a person do? Force yourself to use facilities that you have no interest in using to make you feel that the use of Phone A or Phone B is justified? Find and use a phone where you are using all the features on offer?

So, let's focus on devices/systems where I use, let's say, at least most of the features on offer…or maybe not…

Sony Xperia devices have four main features that, presumably make it cost so much - Music Pro, Cinema Pro, Video Pro, Photo Pro. And I have no interest in using any of them, beyond testing for review purposes.
So what's left?
Too much - for that jolly psychology?
LED Notification Light (which is going away in next generation).
3.5mm audio-out - nice, but in reality I rarely use use.
128GB limit on the 5 Mk.IV is annoying (even with microSD there).
Shutter button is nice for those who take photos.
Speakers are good, but I have better on other phones.
Dynamic Vibration is nice, too, but hardly deal breaking/making.

Ready For is great fun to play with (though not critical these days with super connectivity).
A clean UI - yes, I appreciate that.
The Motorola ‘extras’ I do make wide use of, too, like chop-chop torch and 3-finger screen-shot.
I do make use of Fast Charging (sometimes).
I do use Peek Display (though this looks like it could be disappearing going forward) and like their fonts - particularly ‘Square’.

Even heading back to the Mothership, I find that Google are running away with services I don't use in the real-world, beyond testing.
All that AI-everything.
Take that Call Screening - I used that once!
Hold for me - I rarely make phone calls.
Direct my call - ditto.
Wait times - ditto.
All that stuff inside camera/Photos - well, only to test and wow for 5mins.
Now Playing, yes I do use this.
Speech to text - hate speaking to inanimate objects!
Copy/paste text anywhere - rarely.
Android Auto - don't have a car.
Maps - don't go anywhere.
Split screen - never use (on candybar).
Universal Search/Search my device (like Apple's I guess) - never use it.
App Suggestions - turned off.
Quick Tap on the back - I forget it's there!
Recorder App with translation and transcription - never use it.
Google Assistant (Hey G) - never use it beyond testing/reviewing.
Personal safety app - it's for other people!
The list goes on - the stuff that Google provides that I don't use.
Everything with Google is about AI these days and in a different way, I feel that I'm using as much of all that as I do Samsung or Sony stuff - very little.

I do make use of Good Lock (for all sorts of things).
I do make use of Stacking Widgets (or whatever they are called).
I do make use of Edge Panels.
AoD is the best, so I use that to the full.
Galaxy Theming, Icons, Store, Pay, Cloud, I avoid them all (and more).
I do make use of the control over UI elements, for sure.
I like how Sammy is more in bed with Google and Microsoft than ever before.
I like the fast updates.
I don't ever touch Bixby, Free, Flow.
It's annoying to have to Force Stop and Disable their own Apps.
It’s annoying not knowing where controls are (though the search is good - and Pixel is becoming similar these days anyway).

Coming Close
What comes closest to the simple life then?
Probably a Nokia or FairPhone - something akin to AndroidOne - but then it’s so stripped back that I feel like I miss out on much.
There's no pleasing some people!
It’s the Samsung and Pixel which are stacked with stuff (hardware and/or software and/or services) I don’t use.
Oh for the simple life!

My ‘Too Much’ Percentages…
Moto 20%
Sony 40%
Pixel 60%
Samsung 80%

So is it OK to have a phone and not use 75% of what it can do?
Part of the issue here is that mobile phones are supposed to be mobile.
And I'm not!
So I continue to find that because I'm mostly static, I have other devices that do the same jobs, nearly always better.
I would say that since about the age of 23 (1986) I have done everything I can to be behind a full-size keyboard with mouse and big display, connected to the internet or not.
Sharp IQ Organisers, Psions, Ipaq, Windows Mobile, GameBoys, handheld devices and so on have always been secondary - including, now, phones, tablets - interesting playthings.
And I still do.
Don't get me wrong - I love the playthings, but the more time goes on, the more I realise that I'm not really using them to anything like their potential and they are, just that, for me - toys.

The Benefits of the Walled Garden

I’m talking about the ones employed by (mainly) Samsung and Apple (in my smartphone-driven world). Where hardware and software tends to work together as long as the user accepts the ‘closed’ nature of what’s going on, looks at what others are doing from afar - and feels secure in the knowledge that everything, well, most things, just work!

I don’t have any Apple gear. I dipped my toe in the water some years back and didn’t like it much. My life was, since 2004/2008 all Google/Android. I have tried really hard to be satisfied with the Nexus/Pixel/ChromeOS life but missing features and seeing what Samsung do, sometimes draw me away and down another path. I can understand at times like this why people get stuck into Apple stuff (or Samsung) and don’t come out.

I have recently been having my annual toe-in-the-water with Samsung and have to hand a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra on One UI 6, a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 and a Samsung Galaxy Tab S8. There is something compelling about how they just all work together for the benefit of the user - and I have to admit, that it draws me in!

As with any system, there are niggles - but with Samsung and Android, the user can often get round them. An example being the size of the icons/text in the Status Bar - which with One UI I think is too small. I can’t find any way to change that except to use Nova (or some other) Launcher or App someone has cooked up instead. But these instances are rare. Usually there’s a workaround with Samsung. The depth of system controls is exhaustive - and only made deeper by the inclusion of Good Lock (Samsung’s virtual lab) where even more stuff can be tweaked.

It’s not all good, of course. There’s all the Samsung services pushed at the user, like Bixby, Samsung Pay, doubling up of PIM apps, the sometimes confusing Galaxy Store (which can’t seem to work neatly with Google’s Play Store and allows crossover of updating apps) to mention a few - but for those willing to really reside inside the walled garden, well, because it’s Android perhaps a walled garden with a gate, these issues become side-issues and the user enjoys the benefits. And I’m sure that’s mainly true for Apple users, too.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of October 2023

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

Phones Show Chat
Episode 769 - Much ado about Nothing...2
Sunday 1st October
Steve and I are joined by Joe Hickey this week. We get his view on his current crop of devices - Xperia, Pixel - and some App Suggestions. We also take a first look at the Nothing Phone 2 and Steve considers why his iPhone 14 Pro Max is better than the new 15! Plenty more besides, so do tune in.

Tech Addicts Podcast
OneDrive Woes
Sunday 1st October
Gareth and I are back again this weekend, wading through waves of Windows, Watches and Websites! Tons of tomfoolery as usual, from Anker to Zoom (well, Xiaomi anyway) and much between. Do drop in and join us - available from the usual haunts...

or Room
Episode 147 - Venetian Waltz
Wednesday 4th October
Allan, Gareth and I are back again for a couple of hours of natter about all things film, cinema and TV. Lots of goodies as always - we head for Venice and a Vivarium, Toxic Reptile and focus on Christoph Waltz. So open your Big Eyes and feast 'em!

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 770 - Windows 11 on an Eight Year Old Phone
Saturday 7th October
Mike Warner joins Steve and I this week and tells us how he blended the old with the new via techno-trickery! We also natter about the new Pixels and decipher Google's 'update promise' - then talk folding, diets and tree-lopping.

Whatever Works
Episode 195 - Mucky Duck Pluck!
Wednesday 11th October
...starring Aidan as a spoonful of coffee grounds, myself as a large Sticky Toffee Pudding too heavy for an e-Bike, a small rodent called Grizelda with eczema and a colour-blind alien seeing the world in yellow at bedtime! Plenty of fun, so get stuck in and join us for an hour - it's available in the usual places!

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 771 - In Search of the Perfect 2-in-1
Saturday 14th October
Steve and I welcome Shane Craig back this week as we natter for an hour about all things folding, mostly, getting his take on the Pixel Fold, Samsung folders, Surface Duo dualers(!), OnePlus Open and much more! Time for a bunch of the regular stuff too, so do join us.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Barisieur Bed Partners
Sunday 15th October
Gareth and I are back again with another (record-breakingly long) weekend natter about all things techy! A snappy Leica, heavy laptop, apps on watches, smaller consoles, old consoles, new Chromebooks - and loads more. Do join us!

or Room
Episode 148 - Reptile Creator
Wednesday 18th October
Allan, Gareth and I are back with another roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we close in on Morgan Freeman in Themed Treats, end up going Nowhere in Private Screening via The Deep Blue Sea and rely on Dead Reckoning to scoop up much more, from us and you!

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 772 - Folks and Folds
Saturday 21st October
Long-time PSC supporter Carlos Anzola met Steve in the pub the other day and shared his thoughts on all things mobile, which Steve recorded and adds here. There's another audio drop-in from Mike Warner on chip-manufacturing shifts, whilst Steve and I natter about the Pixel Fold, Surface Duo 2, OnePlus Open and a ton of other stuff.

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 773 - Synth in your Pocket
Saturday 28th October
Steve and I welcome Alan Webb this week. We find out what devices he's using and get his thoughts on the current (and past) state of all things mobile. I'm wielding the Sony Xperia 1 Mk.IV, comparing with my 5 Mk.IV, Steve's rounding up his Pixel Fold coverage and also steps back into Surface Duo Land.

Tech Addicts Podcast
AI Riley Reid
Sunday 29th October
Gareth and I are back with our fortnightly roundup of all things tech that we fancy showing you that we know little about! This time it's robotic filth, live crashes, solar-this and silica-that, retro-tastic Walkman-a-like and oodles more tripe. So join us, why not!

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

Monday 2 October 2023

The Dynamic Draw of Sony

The Sony Xperia phones are expensive, but packed full of features that someone really into photography, video or audio creation might be able to justify the outlay for - making good use of them. This is a personal piece for me, dissatisfied with most phones which come through my hands for various reasons, pondering on why I so often return to Sony.

The truth is that I gave up photography in the 1990's. Back in the film SLR days it was my primary hobby and I created some wonderful art (if I say so myself) alongside the people in my various groups. I think that things shifted for me with the growth of the internet, mobile phones, cameras switching to digital (which I never really understood like I did film), tablets, smart devices and computers.

I started to spend a great deal of the time that I used to out with my cameras (very knowledgeable about them, the latest models and innovations - in a way that I like to think I probably do so now about computing gear), in front of my PC, playing with phones and other tech gear - as I drifted further and further away from creating photos myself.

We have made the point on The Phones Show Chat Podcast that 'there is nothing left to photograph' and 'someone will have already done that' - so much so that instead of taking a photo oneself, one can just Google one up, quite possibly much better than anything one could have taken anyway. Head for the Eiffel Tower. Can you really take a photo that's not been taken 1,000+ times before?

Of course, this is not strictly true when it comes to works of art and specific 'people' shots that nobody will have taken before, but you get the point. And further musings reflect the futility of doing this anyway... Who is it for? Who is going to appreciate it? How long will anyone be interested, especially in casual family shots?

A long way round, but I think I got back to the point that all the imaging-related functions on the Xperia phones is a bit wasted on me - unlikely as I am anytime soon to start creating works of art again. And even if I did, without manual control over aperture settings, for me, it's not 'proper' photography anyway - however fancy the phone's software claims to be with AI. But for some, that's the challenge - learning how to use these tools without the full set of functions that 'traditional' photography would have afforded the user and an understanding of light.

So, for me, that's the Photography Pro, Cinema Pro, Videography Pro apps rendered defunct! How about Music Pro, then? You create podcasts, if nothing else, you cry! Well, yes I do and at first I thought this would at least give me a good 'recording' backup function, but then discovered that each recording is capped at 10 minutes in Music Pro, which rendered this also defunct, for me. I guess this is aimed at musicians who are creating 'snippets' at 'jam' sessions, not someone creating a 90-minute podcast or wanting to record a local band down at the pub.

This all sounds very negative towards what Sony have created here. I do wonder how many 'professional' (or even amateur) photographers, cinematographers or musicians are going to use this gear over the (no doubt) professionally-based gear they likely already have and will make for a better job. So who is for, then? TikTok, YouTube/Shorts creators/influencers? People starting out before they can afford 'pro' gear? (Well, don't forget that this gear ain't cheap, either!) Phone reviewers, on test?! Kids (wealthy ones) in bedrooms testing out for the future? Someone who knows how Sony Alpha cameras work, maybe, so 'might as well' have a phone in their pocket that works in a similar way, if they're going to have a phone.

Where on earth are you going with this? I hear you cry again, tapping your foot! Fair enough. And the point of my piece here is to justify to myself, taking away all those fancy so-called 'pro' apps, having bought in last-year's Xperia second-hand at a good price, if there's still enough left to favour the phone (underused in the above ways as it might be) over 1,001 other options out there. What does it bring to the table for me, the rounded-package, that I can't get elsewhere - at least, not in the same device? That's where I'm going!

Let's start with the side-mounted, capacitive fingerprint scanner - that works first time, every time. It's the perfect place for it, particularly, as with Sony, where there's no Face Unlock on offer. This is a feature that had been dwindling away (certainly in anything near flagship models from any OEM) before seeing a resurgence, but only then with mid-tier phones and cheaper, generally. Second best to this is the Samsung Ultrasonic (though your mileage may vary) with optical bringing up the rear, it's generally accepted. Getting better over time, I'll admit, but Sony sticking with the old tried-and-tested is a great feature.

The Xperia 5-series is also thin, light and narrow, which makes it perfect for one-handed use. Some may say that it's too tall, but the argument only really survives on the 5-series when compared to 'most' phones out there (which have bigger screens anyway). When considered in isolation, it only 'feels' tall in relation to itself and its width. It's only a tad taller than the dinky Samsung Galaxy S23 - and much, much less tall than pretty much any 6.7" phone out there! Some may say that it's too narrow to type on the keyboard efficiently. Well, yes, OK - but as it's Android you have access to 101 other keyboards, many innovative to assist with typing - or, if the user still thinks of it as 'tall' then make gBoard taller and use more of the screen going up the way!

The Xperia devices are beautifully made, nobody can deny. Take off the TPU case and look at the metal, the glass - the class! The finest materials which yes, one could argue is more prone to being drop-damaged, but in a safe environment at least I can look, feel and enjoy the object of delight/desire! Don't forget that we have Gorilla Glass Victus (on more recent models) and IP6/8 which at least, for those going naked, lends a little more peace of mind!

The screen is next - and what a cracker it is. Beautifully bright (well, unless you engage Adaptive Brightness!) and colourful with rich hues and deep blacks. I always think that the LG pOLED screens are probably my favourite, but this is just as good and certainly super-bright with fast refresh rates now (for those who can tell). It is tall for a reason of course and even for those not watching 21:9 cinema releases on the screen, there's no doubt that you get more packed in. At the top of the screen, you also get (possibly the last generation) LED Notification light. You know, that pin-prick one - which is incredibly bright, changes colour to suit alert and is visible across the room, catching the eye. (What a shame that it appears to have disappeared on the 5th generation Xperia phones.)

The chipsets on the Xperia devices are always bang up-to-date - the latest as I write being the SnapDragon 8 Gen 2, providing amazing speed across the UI and great battery efficiencies. Sony roll out a new version of the 1, 5 and 10 series devices every year and it seems that they're determined to ensure that with each iteration, they keep up with the latest processors for each.

The battery ticks another box for me and another reason to meander back to Sony. I have used mainly 10 and 5-series Xperia phones across recent years, so can't speak for the 1-series with its higher resolution display, but the 10 and 5 have been very, very battery efficient. All day and well into the second, no problem at all. In fact with the 10 Mk.V users can expect up to 3 days with moderate use.

The 5 and 1 series also now have Qi Charging (a first for the 5-series) and that makes for a great, steady, overnight charge most days without having to plug in (there's also reverse Qi charging). If you do have to plug in, you get 30W wired charging, which is perfectly good for my use, grabs me 50% from flat in about half an hour and a full charge in just over an hour. No, of course, it's not anything like the 125W charging of the Motorola Edge 30 Ultra, but who knows (for regular use) what damage is being done by employing such extremes. At time of writing, I think the latest/greatest is actually 240W from one of the Chinese-based brands!

I'm not sure any more that having a microSD Card slot makes it to my shortlist of useful features any longer. With the upscaling of amazing connectivity speeds and reliability, even in backwaters like mine in the UK, I'm beginning to think that actually, I might rather have faster read/writes built-into 256GB of storage than 128GB and a slot for a card. But I change my mind when I plug in my 1TB card and realise that I then have 1,128GB at my disposal for carrying as much media with me as I could possibly use - even on the longest of trips! So perhaps it does make the list after all!

This brings me to the way in which I often use such amounts of storage - the 5 and 1 series Xperia phones support HDMI-Out via USB-C 3+, which means that I can cable up to a telly (or any monitor with an HDMI port) and get my media out to a bigger screen. I used to do this a lot more before connectivity was so good/reliable, but still do sometimes and it remains a great feature to have, rather than to not!

A double-edged sword here is Sony's commitment to software updates. They, like Motorola (until recently) just don't say how long they will support their releases for Android OS updates or Google Security patches. Users can only go by what they have done before and what they appear to be currently doing. Various commentators claim to have inside information on the alleged promise, but there's no official word from Sony that I've ever seen. Recent confidence (at least for the 1 and 5 series) seems to be 2/3 OS and maybe 3/4 years of Security updates. Sony need to be more specific about this, particularly when charging so much for the hardware.

The other side, however, is that Sony do, generally, push out updates fairly regularly and don't fall behind too much like many others. I don't remember ever seeing a 'red flag' (remember those from the Android Settings pages?) on an Xperia, which means that they're never 3 months behind Google. In fact, the usual pattern for OS updates is 3 months after Google and security, either before month-end or during the following month at worst. So, another partial box-tick for me!

I've talked about cameras and photography, above, but a couple of points here still to make. The best one is the continued supply of a physical shutter button (on the 1 and 5 series) on the side of the device, just where the finger lands - as if it were a 'proper' camera. Now I know that some people are not so sold on this, feeling that pressing down on the button is more likely to invoke camera-shake than touching the screen, but I counter-claim, suggesting that anyone coming from a similar two-stage shutter release on a 'proper' camera will be alert to this and not let it happen. The advantages clearly outweigh the risks here for me.

Furthermore, in most camera modes, the user gets a green focus-confirmation readout, again, just like a 'proper' camera. This is incredibly rare (and maybe even unique) with built-in camera apps from OEMs. I have reviewed a lot of phones over recent years and I don't remember anyone else doing this, certainly recently. And it's a camera-killer-feature for me. Why doesn't everyone do it?! I guess because they are more interested in AI features and automated-everything. Which brings me to one missing feature (in the 4th generation units). Some sort of point-and-shoot algorithmic-based, post-shot processing mode for quick and easy snapshots (Pixel style) which many people often want to take - though maybe not the 'pro' users that Sony are after here. Anyway, I meandered there into the negative rather than the box-ticking! The good thing is that I understand this has been fixed and supplied (at least) on the 1-series 5th generation (in some modes).

The Always On Display not only stays on, if that's what you want, but it displays AlbumArt of the playing music - and looks great on the screen for quick reference etc. That's the great news. The not-so-great news is that apparently it's been taken away from the 5th Generation 1 and 5 series phones. What a shame. I think they're messing with the 'ambient' arrangements to keep up with what Google are doing with the forthcoming Android 14 and, my best guess, is that this won't comply with what they do. Samsung have, ironically, just added this feature, but via the 'back door' of GoodLock, not the main UI. But I guess if they can do it, so could Sony (continue to). Anyway, the AoD has a choice of clocks and seems to remain brighter in use than many others. Again, Samsung lead the way in this respect, knocking spots off the whole competition.

The flavour of Android here is very clean. It sits there with some others who lean towards AOSP/AndroidOne implementation with a limited 'skin' over what Google offer, adding some useful apps/services but not blathered in them like some other OEMs do (looking more like an attempt to create a walled-garden environment of their own). Yes, you can miss out on some rich features (like the aforementioned GoodLock stuff) but generally, that's a ticked-box for me. You know where you are. You know where to find stuff. You know how stuff works. Without having to go to night-school for classes! (See my recent Is Life Too Complicated Already? Blog Post.)

Lastly, I come to the best part, which is the sound the device creates! So not audio-creation, as above, but the No.1 feature I think that keeps me coming back. The front-firing, proper stereo speakers which sound great on the 5 Mk.IV and (according to Steve Litchfield) even better on the latest 1-series. (The 10-series lags behind here, sadly.) But yes, the speakers may not produce the loudest sound of any phone out there, but you get a certain Sony quality that's hard to define. It just sounds great! There's the full suite of Dolby Atmos for those who want to adjust it further, but as-is, is also just fine. I think I prefer the phone's sound (overall) to anything else out there (that I have tried).

This is also supported by (what is for now) Sony's unique Dynamic Vibration. It makes the phone vibrate (at different user-adjustable levels) to the various frequencies of sounds coming from your media, music, video or gaming. And it has to be experienced for anyone to realise how great it is - how immersive it makes the viewing/listening/gaming experience. We've spoken about it so much and get the impression that outside of Phones Show Chat Towers others are not so bowled over by it, but we're sold on it, hook, line and sinker. Try it if you can. Most people who 'shrug' over it tend to be those who have not! (I said 'for now' there because there is evidence that Google could bake in some sort of DV to Android sometime in the future, so watch that space.)

The other part of the audio is simply being a part of the Sony 'system'. For example, I have a pair of Sony XM4 headphones which work beautifully with the phone in every way, via their app and auto-hookup, in liaison with the Google Assistant. It's joined-up thinking and execution. Similarly with some Sony Bluetooth speakers I have - it just all works (in an Apple kinda way). There's all the LDAC Sony goodness in the mix, more tools and toys to play with regarding 360 Reality Audio and hooking up with various services with that content, DSEE, Upmixing/scaling to make crap audio sound better and a bunch of other stuff - even before you get anywhere near the aforementioned Dolby! So yes, feeling like one is a part of the Sony 'thing' is all-embracing, for me.

I almost forgot, there's a 3.5mm audio-out socket! How could I?! Yes, use an old-fashioned cable to connect and get the benefits of the wonderful 24-bit sound output to other devices (speakers as well as headphones) in the traditional way. Don't get me wrong, Bluetooth these days sounds fabulous and you can't beat being able to walk around, cable-free and still listen, without a snag between your head and pocket - but it's great to have the choice. An oasis amongst the near-100% of other flagship phones that retains this function.

A meandering bunch of thoughts this may have been, but hopefully you've hung on in there and have been able to get a flavour of what I've been bangin' on about! The point for me is about the reasons why I keep coming back to my dinky Sony. It's about size, build quality, the fingerprint scanner, the physical shutter-release button, the screen, the chipset, battery with Qi, microSD, LED Notification Light, the HDMI support, the green focus-confirmation light, Always on Display, clean version of Android, feeling like I'm part of the Sony setup, the music output, speakers, sound and the jewel in the crown - the Dynamic Vibration. Try it!

This is why I keep coming back!

Sunday 1 October 2023

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of September 2023

...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 192 - Carry On Camping!
Saturday 2nd September
Aidan and I mulch through the usual load of clap-trap we bring, adding to the pearls that you good folk offer into the mix. Loofahs and Dragons, the stickiest thing in the world, bin-liners, ear-plugs, it's all here for the plucking! With a 'P'. Available in the usual places, so do launch in when you have bugger all else to do for an hour!

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 765 - Impending iPhone
Saturday 2nd September
This week Steve and I chat with Dan Carter about the usual ton of topics on PSC including a focus on the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.V and Fairphone 5. We lurch into Lenovo and meander into Motorola and Microsoft with ThinkPhone being clearly for business use and declare there to be life in the Surface Duo yet. Loads more, so do join us via the usual routes.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Tdarr Me Hearties!
Sunday 3rd September
This week, Gareth and I lose track of time and prattle on for a record amount of it! Sony Playstation Portal, Hyper X Cloud III, that Windows 11 update, Google Lacros, the Atari 2600+, Lenovo Legion Go, the wonder that is Tdarr and the Asus Zenfone 10 are touched on alongside the possibility of Oppo being dumped by the UK? Available in all the usual places, so do join us for, er, yes - 4 minutes longer than our previous record! (Good job we didn't include the 75-minute pre-amble! 😂)

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 766 - All-in On Flagships
Saturday 9th September
Alan Newton joins and I this week as we delve once again into the marvellous medium of mobile! Loads of topics and devices covered as usual (Alan's had hands-on with every device on the planet!) with software and services too. Available in the usual places, so do join us for an hour.

Whatever Works
Episode 193 - Carry On Camping!
Wednesday 13th September
Aidan and I are back with a frightfully posh episode of your favourite Pod! This time we natter for an hour about chargers and scooters and comfy chairs and vacuum cleaners and recycling - and even xmas! What? Already?! Do join us - you know where to find it. You're always welcome in our house of crazy-talk!

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 767 - The iOS/Android Pendulum
Saturday 16th September
Steve and I, back again this week and with Tayo Olasope along for the ride. He tells us about the gear he's using and what he thinks about all things mobile just now. Plus loads of other stuff as usual. Available in all the usual places, so do join us.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Suffering Starfield!
Sunday 17th September
Gareth and I are back for a rip-roaring fortnightly catchup on all things tech that are fit for a Dragon! Harmony, Huawei and China in space, MediaTek on 3nm and the Moto Edge 40 Neo, ClockworkPi and Logitech's Reach, Nintendo and PlayStation, Google in the Kitchen for a decade and even TikTok in Dublin! This and oodles more, so do join us - available in the usual places.

or Room
Episode 146 - River Wild Invasion
Wednesday 20th September
Allan, Gareth and I are back again after our summer break with another rip-roaring adventure into all things film, cinema and TV. This time we focus on John Lithgow, get confused with Shining Girls (those of us who watched it!), live Past Lives and end up Good, Bad and Ugly! Plus loads more, as always. Available in the usual places, so do join us.

Phones Sho
w Chat
Episode 768 - Always on the Cutting Edge
Saturday 23rd September
This week Steve and I welcome back Andy Moon to catch up on devices he's been playing with over the last year. Plenty of natter besides with Google QPR, iOS17, Sony's red-flag, new Moto gear, Samsung (of course) and even Photo of the Month for August - all available in the usual places, so why not join us for an hour.

Whatever Works
Episode 194 - The Chocolate Fork!
Wednesday 27th September
Aidan and I are back again with another dose of delusion! All sorts of goodies on the table as usual from weeders to landing lights, flushing garlic to long spoons and even coloured plugs to Square Miles! Available in the usual places of course, so do join us for an hour. Sorry Aidan - 55 minutes!

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

Saturday 16 September 2023

Is Life Too Complicated Already?

Sometimes I think that the simpler life is better, really. Sometimes! I make the case here in terms of Samsung phones and tablets, device/services infrastructure - the bells’n’whistles of which we often talk. My point is that sometimes it just feels overwhelming - that the (even above-average) user probably doesn’t ever really understand all the ways in which it all works, which services are useful, which are undiscovered and even hardware elements which users don’t really know how to use (or at least make the most of).

I have the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, S23, Z Flip4, Galaxy Watch and Tab S8 here - and I get the impression when in use that I’m using the devices to much less potential than I could be if I really buried myself into the Samsung Way. Now, I get the argument about not worrying about it - just use what you want to use and leave the rest for someone else - but that feels somehow disingenuous and that I should be using all the bells’n’whistles if I’m going to use a Samsung device or three. And annoying that all that background stuff is chugging away needlessly.

Then I return to the relative simplicity of Motorola, Sony, Pixel, Nokia and I think that the point is that I feel in control of the device/services. Not out of control or depth. I know how everything works. I know what everything does. I know where to find everything. I may not have mastered everything, but at least I know what it is! There are exceptions, of course - for example, for me, the Sony is a bit of a one-trick-pony (in audio) as I don’t make any use of all that photographic, cinemagraphic, videographic, audio creation stuff, so most of it is a bit wasted on me. Are the great-sounding speakers enough to justify using (or even having) the (dinky, but tall) device, I wonder. Or take Pixels as another partial exception as it gets more and more layers of services over the top, many of which I don’t use (or know how to) or are locked into USA-only.

The simplest life would seem to be living with a Nokia (and bear in mind that I have no idea about Apple and their devices or how they might fit into this blurb) real bare-bones, back to basics, hardly anything to complicate anyone. Learn how to use what it has in 30 minutes and don’t worry about what others are doing. What it does, it does simply and well. Or using a Chromebook rather than a Windows computer. What it does, it does well. Which brings me to probably what I find to be the middle-ground in the phone world, being Motorola.

Time and again I find myself back in the arms of Lenovorola, liking very much what they do with Android - there’s a fine balance of good features added by the firm, but not a million and one with layers and layers of complication. What’s added is genuinely useful but doesn’t bombard the user’s brain! If users want to add some of that stuff which comes as ‘standard’ with Samsung, there’s usually an App which’ll do it. If it takes a user 30 minutes to work out how to fully use a Nokia, then maybe it’s an hour for a Moto phone!

People reading this will know me well enough to know that next week I’ll be arguing back the other way, in favour of the rich options of Samsung(!) but for now, it feels like Moto is the best balance. Free of the niggling feeling that I really should be making good use of the plethora of features of the Samsung Way, when actually, I rarely need them - it’s very much the toy/fun element - and we come back to that little word ‘need’.

What’s nice about the Android world is the enormity of choice, of course. Especially in terms of hardware. So many handsets out there, many with their own take, like it or loathe it, on Android, many with super top-end features, many with budget-conscious low-end, many in the middle, a price-point for everyone, hardware gaming features, fabulous cameras on some, great speakers on some, ‘old fashioned’ features not being removed on some, too. Blazingly fast charging on some, wireless charging on others, folding, flipping and even rolling on the way! Not sure where I’m going with this thought meander, so I’ll stop!

One last thing… for anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to at this point suggest I get an iPhone, there’s a small guillotine waiting...

Headless (2015)

Blimey! Hold onto your hats - well, heads, actually. This is not one for the faint hearted for sure. A gore-fest from start to finish in whi...