Friday 30 June 2023

Lenovo ThinkPhone by Motorola

Anyone remember the IBM ThinkPad before Lenovo got their hands on the firm? And those dinky red accents, particularly the tiny Nippleflick in the middle of the keyboard? Well, apart from Nokia (and others) having got there before them with a red-button utility on a phone, Lenovo seem to have got their partners Motorola to create a similarly ‘Think’ business-centric and styled, ruggedised Android smartphone. For organisations, for their workforces (particularly in the USA) or those with deep pockets it seems (for the rest of us). It’s an interesting idea and I’m happy to have one in for review which I intend to put up against last year’s cream of the Motorola crop, the Edge 30 Ultra. Is this business phone any good for consumers? Are consumer-based phones better for the rest of us?

The box is a simple brown one, eco-friendly materials, with a pokey SIM tool inside, USB-C to USB-C cable, 68W TurboPower charger (the same one as supplied with the Edge 30 Neo) and a hard plastic protective case, much like the one supplied with other recent Moto phones. I’d rather have a simple soft TPU like you used to do Moto, please - but at least there’s one in the box so I shouldn’t complain.

Physically, particularly compared to the Edge 30 Ultra, it feels much more robust. Not in a ‘build quality’ kind of way (as the Ultra is very well put together) but rather in terms of ‘blocky’ design, industrial, with no vulnerable curved, glass edges (lovely as they are on the Ultra) waiting to crunch into a door frame and crack. The Aramid Fibre back adds to this perception even before looking at the aircraft-grade aluminium frame. The material is strong, heat-resistant, used in aerospace and for the military. Much like the Kevlar back we had on various Moto phones over the years - the RAZRi from 2012 springs to mind. And it’s again, the design language of those ‘ThinkPad’ devices down the years. All very business-targeted, designed to reassure employers that it doesn’t matter if their staff treat them badly. It’s kind of grippy and slightly rubbery, so to some degree it could be used with no case (or TPU) at all.

Motorola has a track record of either not saying anything about water/dust protection in recent years (‘internal components are Nano-coated’) or more recently getting certification for ‘splash’ at IP5/2 or 4. This time, however, with the other claims for ruggedness in the mix, they have grabbed IP6/8 (fresh water, 1m for 30 mins) certification, so now up there with most of the leaders. Furthermore, it has MIL-STD-810H compliance which then includes protection against drop-to-concrete from 1.3m, so much like the Nokia XR20 (and now XR21). Along with Gorilla Glass Victus (very good for impact, maybe not good for scratching, but we’ll see) on the front, there should be few claims for damage, no doubt Lenovorola hope! It certainly feels like it would survive a drop or a dunk, but I ain’t trying it for review purposes! Talking of which, a big thank you to Ben Wood of The Mobile Phone Museum for sending this unit over for review. Do check out his website and find out how you can help to support his museum.

The aluminium frame which I reference above looks gorgeous in this Carbon Black (the only colour available). It looks super, as it sweeps around the perimeter, very slightly curving back to meet the Aramid Fibre back. On the front edge it’s very slightly chamfered as it meets the flat glass too. On the right side we have the usual three buttons for volume up/down and power. These are solid, robust and firm in use, though I am aware that some other users have complained about their review units having a more squishy feel. Not so here. They are very thin, however, which will suit me but others maybe not - and I think I might have preferred all three a tad lower on the side.

On the bottom we have the SIM Card Tray, which has a Dual 5G Data and Voice SIM Capability, but no microSD Card space, even as an option. In the centre, the USB-C port and to the right, one of the pair of stereo speakers. Up on the top we have nothing except for antenna bands and microphones, as all around, but on the left (not far from the top) we have the ‘Red Key’ which I’ll come to later. Finishing off around the back, there’s a stylish-looking camera island, top-left in portrait, with nicely curved glass slopes down to the base - a more subtle version of what Oppo have been doing with various Find models. In the bottom right corner (portrait) there’s a diagonally emblazoned ‘ThinkPhone by Motorola’ logo with a red dot-accent over the ‘i’, beautifully embossed into the fibre. It’s a class act - feels, looks and is - premium. Very nice.

In terms of size, it sits somewhere between the Motorola Edge 30 Neo and Motorola Edge 30 Ultra (my reviews linked). The two biggest have (all-but) the same sized screens but the Ultra ends up being slightly narrower because part of the screen is wrapped around the edges left and right. The ThinkPhone is slightly less tall and all-but the same thickness (if, again, you ignore the Ultra’s curves). The Neo is significantly smaller - great as it is in many ways, it’s not in quite the same class here. The phone balances well in the hand and as it’s thin and light (188g) it feels more than manageable/pocketable. My big hand can just about (at a stretch) reach the far corners of the screen, but we’re just about creeping into two-handed use for some actions.

The front screen is surrounded by a symmetrically-sized bezel. It’s not the thinnest out there, but also far from the thickest - and looks just fine. The ‘selfie’ punch-hole is top and centre, just underneath the other of the stereo pair of speakers doubling up as the earpiece for calls in the usual way. The 6.6” 1080p, 20:9 (399ppi) panel itself is the same gorgeous pOLED which is on the other two Edge devices here, made by LG and every bit as good, if not better, than the best of Samsung’s screens in my opinion. I really like the pOLED and it’s a great selling point for Motorola. It’s exceptionally bright, colourful, sharp with deeper than black blacks and simply a joy to look at. I can’t praise the auto-brightness algorithm in the same way however, as much like many other phones (particularly on Android 13) it just always seems to be wrong and is taking a long time to ‘learn’ my corrections. Hopeful it’ll get there in the end without me throwing in the towel like I did with Sony and switching it to manual!

The screen can be switched between ‘Natural’ and ‘Saturated’ (default) and there’s a colour temperature slider between ‘cool’ and ‘warm’. I haven’t felt the need to change any of these, sticking with how it arrived. The display refresh rate can be adjusted between the fixed 60Hz, 120Hz or 144Hz - or set to Auto, which works out what you’re likely to need ‘up to 120Hz’ depending on how you’re using the screen. I haven’t seen it drop to below 60Hz in my tests here, so I guess that’s the limit downwards. Many will be delighted with the 144 setting/capability, but I’m afraid I can’t tell the difference still, so save battery (not that I need to, which I’ll come to later) and fix it on 60 (or Auto). There are all the usual tools to adjust for Dark/light, a basic font/size adjuster (though I’ll come to Moto’s Theming later) and other baked-into Android options like Google’s Screen Saver. This is particularly useful at night as there’s no (true) always on display.

The Always on Display as usual with Moto phones is replaced with their own Peek Display (should you wish to use it). I’ve covered this at length before and it really is (and remains) a great idea (for those who can live without a truly AoD) and enjoy the other features. Being able to Peek at Notifications as they come in and light the screen (or after listing/moving it) and being presented with an overview of the data from the application in question. Then hold and slide the finger for more information, to open the app, dismiss, delete (in some cases) and other actions. It’s really smart and I’ve loved it for years. The only bit missing which I do think Moto should add, is for it to just be on the whole time. You’ll see later how good the battery is to support this notion, but Moto seem frightened to make this change. Anyway, laying that aside, it’s just great! You do get Attentive Display, which means that all the time you’re looking at the phone it stays on (so think desktop stand) but that doesn’t apply to the Peek Display, rather assuming you’re inside the phone with something being worked on.

There is evidence that this phone has been in the making for quite some time, but arguments either way. Gorilla Glass Victus on the front screen could have now been v2, the chipset could have been a later one (which I’ll come to) but counter to that is the fact that it’s arrived on Android 13, still not available for the Ultra which remains on 12. But there is a promise of 3 OS updates (taking it to Android 16) and 4 years of security (up to January 2027). This is the same promise that was applied to the Ultra but as that came out on Android 12 and launched in 2022, the update extent and ‘window’ will be proportionately shorter/less now. But good for Moto trying to keep up with this. They have had a bad reputation in this area, so hopefully 2022/2023 includes some corner-turning! Next stop, making the updates timely - not months-on-end late!

The chipset is the SnapDragon 8+ Gen 1 (4nm), the exact same as the Ultra from last year, and although some will say that this is now behind the curve, I see no problem with that. Technically of course Gen 2 will be ‘better’ - more efficient, faster and so forth - but we’re surely talking about degrees here and as far as my testing has proved both with the Ultra and ThinkPhone, they process tasks blazingly fast even when I have been throwing somewhat demanding games at them (car racing for testing purposes via Moto’s usually included now Gametime utility). I have noticed no slowdown or struggles to keep up with what’s going on and the only time I noticed any heat was during setup as I bombarded the phone with huge amounts of copy-data, downloads and updates to the system. Since then, it’s been as cool as a cucumber.

The unit I have here has 256GB storage and 8GB RAM, though there are (in various markets, so check locally - that is if you can find one of these on sale at all!) 128GB/8GB, 256GB/12GB and 512GB/12GB versions in production. They are all supported by UFS3.1 for data transfer speeds of up to 1,200MB/s. With no microSD I’d strongly recommend the 256GB version, but I guess businesses will be cutting costs, so the majority of corporate deals will be done with the base unit. As for having ‘only’ 8GB RAM, I really don’t feel the need for more. True, the Ultra here has 12GB but I notice no difference between them in terms of what is held open for revisiting quickly or numbers of tasks closing down eventually. Maybe I don’t push that enough during my review process, but it feels perfectly good even when pushing the unit with Ready For (which I’ll come to) and connection to multiple sources.

In terms of biometrics and security, the phone offers an under-glass optical fingerprint scanner which was fast and efficient to register and set up, then became pretty reliable in use. I don’t think optical is as good as Samsung’s ultrasonic or good ol’ fashioned capacitive, but it’s certainly good enough here - especially when teamed up with Face Unlock. That is, when I could get my face registered! I always have this hoo-har with Motorola phones and I still can’t work out what the problem is - as it just keeps failing and failing to progress through the registration for my face. I sometimes have a full, bushy beard - but at the moment I do not have - so I don’t think there’s really any excuse. I tried and tried, then asked an elderly female relative of mine to have a go - and boom! First time in and done! I persevered, tried every angle, every lighting condition - in the end, I purposely did not include the top/crown of my head in the ‘circle’ and boom! Again, straight in! So I don’t know if the beard is a red herring or Moto just doesn’t like the size/shape of my head, but I always have this trouble! Anyway, once done, as I say, that and the finger work together very nicely, quick access - done and dusted.

The Red Key is up there near the top on the left and behaves very much like Nokia’s version on the XR20. There are three ways to use it - long-press to get to the settings, single-press to launch pretty much whatever app you fancy (or three ‘tools’ - play/pause music, Recorder or Screen record - as chosen by Moto) and double-press to invoke various actions as a part of the Ready For set up. The obvious use for us consumers is Play/Pause for music, but business people might be plumping for voice recorders or launching Microsoft applications, Teams/Meet, video for Skype or whatever for high-brow business meetings! Good to have the choice though and the system works very well, just as it did with Nokia, even surviving a reboot of the phone for music play/pause. It looks very ‘Think’ of course, with the red accent design language and even ‘scored’ surface just like the Nippleflick with ThinkPads et al!

Various elements of the MyUI system are worth another mention as we have all the usual suspects present like chop-chop for torch, twist-twist for camera, three-finger screenshot, double-tap the back for the launch of an assignable app, lift-to-wake, move-to-wake, double-tap-to-wake - the usual goodies, all present and correct including the new-look Side Launcher. This is the same Edge Panels from Samsung, pretty much, including a control in being able to set it so that launched apps (or even the app drawer itself) do so in their own ‘floating’ window (or full screen if wanted). This feature is growing on me, previously assigned as a gimmick, now useful. You can of course assign whatever apps/tools you want to the panel up to a maximum of 7. There’s nowhere near the depth of control and utility you get with Samsung, but it’s still a neat and useful feature. There’s a one-handed mode which you have to swipe-down across the bottom of the screen to invoke, but sadly, again, not as well implemented as Samsung’s which then gives a shrunken full screen to navigate within rather than here, just revealing the top half, leaving the bottom half inaccessible without scrolling. It’s more of a ‘pull down the top half of the screen to the bottom half’ feature really. Home Screen control is much more ‘open’ than Pixels’ (with the fixed elements). You can lay it out pretty much how you like with a bunch of Moto clock/weather widgets, Notification dots, app tray set-up or iPhone-style splayed apps/folders across screens, Google Feed to the left and much more as supplied as part of Android 13 and beyond.

I’ve written about Android 13 (and discussed aplenty on The Phones Show Chat) as I followed Google’s progress with a Pixel on the Beta last year (and am now doing likewise with Android 14), but up to now have not been afforded the opportunity to see what Motorola have done with it. Yes, my very first sight of Android 13 on a Moto! Motorola have a reputation for not messing with baseline Android too much and a lot of what Android 13 brought to the table is nicely integrated here, some of it within Moto MyUI in terms of dedicated areas of UI ‘theming’ - fonts, sizing, colours, hooks into wallpaper and so on - but keeping the good stuff like Google’s own icon-theming if preferred with ‘minimalist’ Material You sets. Yes, the look and style stuff is here, not so clearly (outside of MyUI) in Android 12 on the Ultra. There’s all the enhanced Wellbeing stuff, security prompts (like indication when camera/microphone is being used by an app), enhanced Music Player (with squiggly scrubline) in the Notification shade, Notification control defaults giving user-priority-choice over what gets permission to keep pinging the user, hooks into Chromebooks with the Hub (though not as advanced as what Pixels can do), clipboard across devices, audio enhancements and so on. It all looks and feels good to me and a step up from the Ultra, still wallowing on Android 12! Generally speaking, you do get a very ‘clean’ implementation of Android here, as usual with Moto.

They’ve obviously decided that the mark of a device being business-centric is to do a deal with Microsoft, so out of the box, you get pre-installed apps from them - Outlook, Teams, Microsoft 365, OneDrive, OneNote and MS Authenticator. All of these, one-by-one are instantly uninstallable thankfully, for those who want to make their own choices, though maybe not so if supplied via workplace/business to employees. As usual Moto goes for the baseline of using Google’s own PIM (and other) apps, not doubling up with their own or alternatives, deals done with 3rd parties. Talking of which, it’s great to see no sign of FaceBook installed (which doesn’t often happen now and I guess is not considered ‘business’ enough) but I was surprised that there was no LinkedIn (which clearly is).

What they do have built-in is their own layer of security solutions, including ThinkShield (which, actually seems to be pre-installed on all devices from Moto now - think Samsung’s Knox as it seems like a similar idea - though it doesn’t, like the latter, seem to slow down things horribly - especially with bulk-update of Apps in the Play Store), Think2Think (which hooks up to other ‘Think’ branded Lenovo gear, like laptops for the business sector), Zimperium Threat Defence (which defends against device, network, phishing, malicious app risks and attacks), KeySafe (which apparently walls-off a section of the ROM to keep data safe which should be secure and not open to anything outside the system) and also available to employers (via desktop applications for business) ‘fleet’ management of devices for employers to globally control the activity, connectivity and available apps and services to their staff teams. So yes, all very business-orientated additions and available resources - and presumably this is partly why the phone seems overpriced (for consumers to buy at least) but I’ll come to that later. The consumer, however, can strip a lot of this out, never see it, and just use the phone like any other Android phone, much as I am here. Phew!

Motorola’s Ready For system tends to maybe have the feel of a system which might well be adopted by business people, I guess, and Moto, in case, have wisely decided to make available the whole suite in the ThinkPhone, not just the wireless version. I use my Ready For with phones for fun and leisure (wirelessly and with a cable via the USB-C 3.1 port), but can easily see how a business person on the road might be able to ‘hotdesk’ with dumb-monitors, Windows PCs (as long as the Ready For software can be downloaded onto it), get productive via a hotel room TV, easily arrange demonstrations on big displays at meetings, use a keyboard and mouse setup in various locations - all keeping their data needed on trips on their phone (or in the cloud) and utilise shared/available hardware for ease of working/use. Perhaps take a NexDock with them in a bag, or Android Tablet, so that the brains of the phone can serve other devices and make working easier. And then, when done, armed with an HDMI cable (or going wireless), watch a film or TV show again using the phone’s apps/storage/brains to make it all happen. I have been hooked up with a cable to my TV watching stored films (and Netflix) with my Sony headphones connected to the phone by Bluetooth producing a wonderfully immersive audio/visual experience. There’s only really Motorola and Samsung (with DeX) doing this stuff (to the same degree) and it’s great to see it being ongoingly supported and developed by both firms. I do think that Ready For remains slightly ahead of DeX with a more user-friendly UI (particularly on TV) as an option, with all the benefits of DeX as well. Then there's the counter argument which says that if you're relying on other equipment being available or carrying a NexDock, you might as well just carry a small laptop, tablet or Chromebook. Each to their own!

Another way in which it seems that Motorola has decided the business crowd will or won’t use the device is the quality of output from the phone’s speakers. It’s pretty loud at 100% volume, but in my tests here it is also fairly unstable at 100% volume! It distorts and favours top-end frequencies to such a degree that it sounds, well, a little tinny. Sounds blasting out in terms of ringtones/alerts or whatever are just fine (so for spoken word in meetings), but for media consumption (so back to business emphasis) it’s not a top player. Comparing it with the Ultra here, it’s clear that the latter has been designed with consumers in mind offering a better all-round experience, better stereo separation, more bass and a much more usable top volume sound. Reduce the ThinkPhone’s volume down to 80% and its oodles better! For those happy to take the 20% hit on volume, they will have a much better experience for media, though the soundstage is still not as good. Once again I should apologise for nit-picking and comparing apples with pears, as the vast majority of people (certainly for business applications) would be very happy with the sound - just not audiophiles! It’s certainly loud enough for almost all uses (even at 80%) and unless you’re going to watch films (actually) on the device (without headphones), the stereo issue is probably not huge.

There is the baseline Dolby Atmos available (so not the enhanced Sony/Razer version) with a bunch of pre-set options in the usual way - Music, Film, Game, Podcast, Smart (auto) or Custom (though actually there’s a ‘custom’ available for all the other settings anyway). Drill down and you get a bunch of manual sliders for bass/treble, a few more presets - Bass Boost, Vocal Boost, Brilliant Treble (depending on which pre-set you’re in) and the most useful toggle of the lot (especially when using headphones), Motos’ Sound Virtualiser. This makes a huge difference to stereo ‘width’ (which they call ‘surround’) and in my experience with Moto phones, is always worth having on. It’s certainly worth playing with these settings (which can’t be turned off completely - only to ‘Smart’) as it can transform (particularly using the speakers) a ‘flat’ sound into something with more character and body - probably more than other phones’ systems. (Incidentally, this all looks identical on the Ultra to me with similar impact in use.)

Bluetooth 5.2 is supplied here and as we would expect, sound via that route using headphones or other connected gear (or even cabled via the USB-C port) sounds fabulous. (There’s no 3.5mm audio-out socket, incidentally.) As good as pretty much any device these days - it seems that this is a quick and cheap way to get great sound out of devices. All the above controls are available in the same array (not dumbed-down for speakers, up for headphones, like some systems). As always, the output depends on the quality of what gear is connected, peripherals having their own smarts and processing hard/software. Testing here with Sony WH-1000XM4 and AKG K701 headphones, wired and bluetooth as available. Few will complain about the quality of sound with headphones, however they connect. For business people I have tested the output with the Anker S3 Conference Speaker I have here and it works perfectly well, sitting on a table, as I imagine a bunch of architects in London liaising with their counterparts in New York!

The 5000mAh battery is staggeringly good. I have tested and retested my 10% screen-on Reading Test and I’m consistently getting two and a half to three hours, never (with my average use) getting to bedtime with less than 50% battery left (which, for me, makes it a genuine two-day phone). Everyone’s use and therefore results will be different, I do realise - for someone on a long day out shooting video or (more likely) attending a weekend conference retreat with colleagues to discuss the production values of their manufacturing plant in Kuala Lumpur, for example! Motorola always seems to excel in this department and this is no exception, up there with various of their models over the years (along with the Pixel 5 and 7 - and even, as recently discovered here, Samsung Galaxy S23 - link to my review). I’m more than happy with the overnight 15W Qi Wireless Charging on my night stand, assuring that I’m never likely to need to use the supplied 68W TurboCharge brick (the same that came with my Motorola Edge 30 Neo) and cable. In my tests, however, with this, I have been able to charge from 0-100% in under an hour (and roughly 75% in half-hour). This is not as fast as the 125W brick supplied with the Ultra but certainly useful all the same as a backup on those long business trips.

The camera setup is purely functional it seems with very few bells’n’whistles, outgunned at every turn by the Ultra. I guess that it is assumed that people at work will be unlikely to be getting creative with a camera in their phone and it will be much more likely to be utilised for activities such as snapshots of paperwork, PDFs, whiteboards and video for Skype/Teams meetings. As I said earlier, the audio capability seems to be very much up to that and (for that purpose) video shooting too. I maintain that the average consumer would be absolutely fine with the setup, however, taking photos for social media and passing round to be viewed on screens, but for those who are now expecting 200MP sensors, 10x Optical Zoom, high resolution wide-angle options and more - they will be sorely disappointed with this basic array. The main camera is a 50MP f1.8 one with OIS, it has a wide-angle 13MP f2.2 secondary and one of those throwaway 2MP f2.4 ‘depth’ cameras which seem to be doled out to every budget phone, even under £100, here assisting with portrait mode. There is 8K video shooting available at 30fps or 4K at 60 - and even 4K@30 in the 32MP f2.5 Selfie around the front. It looks like Moto have worked out that anyone using this phone is much more likely to want half-decent video for their business applications/meetings than to take snaps of uncle for granny - which is fair enough! For me, this is just fine as I don’t care much about taking photos with phones, but I can imagine others being rather nonplussed. The same approach as the phone’s speakers, I guess. Saving money on build by chopping down the quality of the components that the firm think that the target audience/users/buyers won’t be bothering with.

However, having said all that, the Moto camera app has got plenty of fun stuff inside and functionality for those who might want to push it. The Night Vision seems to do a decent enough job pulling light when there is none to be had, practically - at the price of noise (don't zoom in!) in the results (depending on level of darkness). The portrait mode now has 24mm, 35mm and 50mm labelled settings (Sony style) which actually do make a difference to options in my experience here, there’s a so-called Macro across many of the shooting modes (which does tend to hunt around a lot and is not as good as what is found in the Ultra and Neo). Plenty of other stuff we’ve got used to with Moto too, like Spot Colour, decent document scanning, dual capture and so on. You can edit the icons in the menu and deeper-dive into Settings for more bells’n’whistles. Shooting in 50MP Ultra Mode produces file sizes of around 10MB (obviously nothing like the Ultra’s 200MP at 30MP and more)! There’s no OIS for video shooting, so results may vary with the 8K/4K. Anyway, as usual, I’m going to hand over to those who know what they’re talking about with regards to digital photography from phones at GSMArena. Do click through, starting here, to read their excellent deep-dive with samples, videos and much testing. Do be aware though that they pretty much sound out my thoughts - that this is not a photographer’s phone and Moto don’t have that target audience in their sights. It’s perfectly functional for business use (particularly the selfie for meetings) and the rest of us, snapping for social media.

Connectivity seems very good as usual with Moto. Cellular voice calls checked both ways sounding very good, signal firm, and data over cellular as reliable as it is with a broadband router, checked with two here. WiFi 6e is available for those who can make use it. Bluetooth range seems very good as well, with the GPS aerial locking onto location as required and hanging on to it, updating quickly. NFC seems to do the job when paying at Tesco and hooking up quickly with my headphones.

Much as I love this phone - as I really do like what Motorola does with Android - I do wonder about the rationale here. The whole ‘business’ thing. And the vastly overpriced options for consumers. £900 from Lenovo’s website, but we have now seen it for £499 via ‘educational’ routes. Why not just price the thing somewhere in the middle (which would be perfectly valid for what the user gets), let consumers buy it freely, sell a shedload more of them and thereby making it (potentially) a bestseller! The ‘business’ stuff can be ignored (and is actually pretty invisible once the Microsoft apps have been uninstalled anyway) or embraced by employers’ IT departments to make the most of ‘fleet’ services available, as an aside. And let’s not forget that ThinkShield at least is available across the Moto range anyway.

It’s great to have the rugged protection for both business and consumers, though plenty of consumer-grade phones now have IP6/8 too. Are business people really going to utilise the whole Ready For thing widely? I’m guessing that it’s likely to be more of a consumer activity (though to be fair I have not been able to see what the business tools available for companies bring to the table in the system). The Red Button is very handy, of course, but again, not sure how much of a ‘business’ thing that is. More likely an off-roader or elder’s SOS function, I think. Certainly for business the ongoing support (assuming it comes and they are good for their promise) and fabulous battery life are going to be very useful, along with the wireless and nice fast charging - though the camera and speaker setups certainly wouldn’t be considered consumer-friendly these days.

It does make me wonder if most of this is really all about marketing but remains an odd outlook/target. It certainly will be interesting to see how many sell - if the majority are being sold for cut prices to business/education anyway, I’m guessing not that many. Perhaps they haven’t made that many. Unless they do open it up to consumers and roll the dice at, say, £599/£699. However, don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly good phone (in fact, I love it) and well spec’d too. Again, I think that Motorola does a great job with Android, keeping it pretty clean yet adding genuinely useful apps/services/functions. I could easily see myself adopting this phone for my personal use and in some ways, as depicted above throughout, the Ultra is arguably better specified - though less rugged of course and certainly more physically vulnerable. The ThinkPhone is very highly recommended if you can get hold of one (or have deep pockets).

Monday 26 June 2023

The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013)

This is an absolute delight of a dark comedy/thriller from the Swedish writer, director, producer and actor Felix Herngren. Presented not too far away from the style of Roy Andersson, this creates genuinely funny laugh-out loud moments amongst the much-travelled crime-thriller theme of people finding a bag of money. The o
riginal title of the 2 hour film is Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann.

We have a 100 year-old man who as a child became fascinated with blowing things up with dynamite (cue laugh out loud moments) and because of that, ended up living in institutions, prisons, mental hospitals and in therapy. The tale is told in two parts, which we jump freely between as we go along. It's clearly obvious where we are though, amongst the leaps.

The present story involves our centenarian in an old-peoples' home, fed up with that, so jumping out of the window and heading off on an adventure. An adventure that leads him into the crime-drama bit because of an accidental incident in a bus depot waiting room where he happens to end up with a suitcase on wheels full of cash. The local police and care home start out on his trail whilst the partly-confused old boy Allan (played by the hugely experienced by off my radar Robert Gustafsson) gets on a bus with the bag and hooks up with one, two, three more people, comically often almost leaving the bag behind him along the way before realising what's in it!

In the same present story, the hoods are also in pursuit, picking up clues as to who has their bag, where the old man is (who has by now got his face all over the press/TV as a 'missing 100 year-old') as they, too, comically, try to get it back. It's often dark, though never gory even though there are plenty of incidents which could have been made so! There's a perfect balance here between funny and dark. Allan ends up in the company of a woman who is in possession of an ex-circus elephant in her back yard, which in itself produces more fun as they hit the road, travelling in a huge circus truck to get away from everyone in pursuit, hoping that they will end up keeping the cash and splitting it 4-ways between them! Watch out for Alan Ford as the crooks' boss, irate on the phone to the gang trying to direct from afar - a brilliant turn!

The rest of the 'flashback' sequences are mainly a reflection of Allan's life right the way through from the dynamite-wielding kid to much later in life and then up to date. We follow him into very unlikely scenes with famous people of the day, scientists, American presidents, European and South American dictators and many more, presented very much in the style of Forrest Gump. It's done equally well and thoughtfully, bringing humour to historic events injecting situations which could have explained real outcomes, but of course didn't. It's all fiction which Herngren is having fun with. And fun, it is! Herbert Einstein, Albert's thick brother, is a scream.

There are drop-in parts for various people, often dressed up as historic figures, Kerry Shale as Harry S Truman, Algirdas Paulavicius as Stalin, Keith Chanter as Ronald Reagan, Philip Rosch as Oppenheimer, Koldo Losada as Franco and loads more. Lots of fun cameos for people looking to be a part of the project, it seems. Not to mention Sonja the elephant!

It's beautifully presented, well directed, excellently acted by all and doesn't run out of steam in terms of a storyline throughout. Some of it is daft, of course, as Herngren's imagination runs wild - but nothing seems to miss the mark. It looks well stitched, pulling together Allan's life story in relation to current events and the adventure of the four, sometimes pulling in bits of back-story of theirs too, funny incidents again, Family Guy style. It's a great film and highly recommended. You'll love it, I reckon!

Saturday 24 June 2023

Samsung Galaxy S23

I have two Samsung Galaxy S-series units here at the moment. The beastly S22 Ultra from last year and now, thanks to Samsung UK PR, the S23. Yes, the little one. And that was the point really. I've always chased the smaller one-hand-friendly phones and maybe, just maybe, the rest of the phone world is starting to agree a little. With offerings from Samsung here, Sony, Asus, Apple, even Google allegedly preparing the Pixel 8 as a smaller device - and not forgetting the whole 'flip' thing as Samsung (particularly) are enjoying great success with sales of their units - perhaps the tide is turning.

Smaller as the S23 is, I pick up the Ultra again and realise very quickly the benefits of a bigger screen, bigger unit with more RAM, S-Pen built-in, no compromises for media consumption and easy-reading for tired old eyes! So, two devices, both good for different stuff - which will I land on? Or do I just need both?!

The S23 arrived in spring 2023 in the now usual Samsung box with no charger, just a SIM Tool and cable. It's a chunky little phone, surprisingly 'heavy' in the hand for 168g, but well-balanced. It may be short and narrow compared to most phones, but it's certainly thick. The extra space for a slightly increased-size battery maybe, but probably more so cramming almost all the Ultra's goodies and works into a much smaller footprint.

It's outstandingly well made with Gorilla Glass Victus 2 back and front, 'Armor' aluminium framework with 'tougher' drop/scratch resistance and IP6/8 for dust/water. The frame is slightly curved (thus avoiding the iPhone/Nothing Phone style sharp edges digging into the hands) volume rocker and power button nicely firm on the right, there's nothing much on top or left (apart from antenna bands and microphones) and on the bottom there's the Dual SIM Card Tray (on this model, with an option to add an eSIM), USB-C socket and one of the pair of stereo speakers - so downward-firing.

The back of the phone is very slippery, as you'd expect with glass, and the three camera modules are each a separate 'island' of their own, circular, sticking out half a millimetre or so. I think it's a classy look and much better than the lumpy-looking 'corner island' of previous years' variations on the S-series phones. There's an LED flash there of course, which can fiendishly be utilised as a 'flash notification' in OneUI.

The front panel is completely flat with a not insignificant punch-hole camera cutout, centre, top. I usually zone these out in time, but I must admit that I was watching a video the other day and was still noticing it in the way. Perhaps it's just disproportionally big for the size of the screen. The cutout on the Ultra is actually smaller. Above this is the other of the stereo speaker pair, doubling up as the earpiece for phone calls.

The Dynamic AMOLED 2X Samsung 6.1" panel is excellent, as we have come to expect. Bright, colourful and a joy to use. It's 1080p with a 19.5:9 ratio resulting in 425ppi, which is pretty nifty for such a small screen and looks very sharp for it. In auto mode, out in the bright sunshine, it can get to 1750nits and I've certainly had no difficulties using it outdoors or in, during this UK summer. I've had it on adaptive brightness from straight out of the box and it just knows what to do, unlike many other systems - looking at Motorola and Sony particularly here, who just do this badly, taking far too long to learn (if ever). For those who can tell the difference, the refresh rate of the screen can be set to either 60Hz fixed or Adaptive, for stepped 'up to' 120Hz, but can't be locked there. When in use during testing I have found this to be well balanced, saving battery when needed, not when not.

This unit has 256GB of storage and 8GB RAM but is also available in 128GB/8GB and (the very difficult to find) 512GB/8GB variations. They launched in the spring at £849 for the base model and £899 for this one. The read/write speeds on the storage for this model are very fast, being rated UFS4, though the base model drops to UFS3.1 for some reason. I'm sure it's still mighty fast though! There's no microSD Card slot of course in 2023 Samsung phones, so I suggest the user stumps up the extra fifty quid for the 256GB model. The RAM is perfectly adequate for keeping things ticking along in the background, though with OneUI you do get optimisation tools included as well, even in the form of a handy widget. Left to its own devices, I felt no need to intervene and haven't noticed any unexpected shut-down of anything or slow-working under load.

Part of which will be due to the now-global adoption by Samsung (for the S23 series) of the SnapDragon chipset - in this case, the 8 Gen 2 (4nm) 'for Galaxy'. So a specially prepared processor worked out between Samsung and Qualcomm for the purpose. It flies through every task I throw at it and is certainly more battery-efficient than the Ultra here, though that's difficult to tell precisely because of all the other different hardware involved. I've not noticed it heating up at all in day-to-day use, even under heavy load or during light-to-medium intensive gaming. So the amazing savings here for me are the battery ones!

The phone comes with a 3,900mAh battery, which is 200mAh up on last year's S22 model, but the difference in longevity for the battery is significant and marked. It's huge! The performance of this battery is more like the excellent Pixel 5/7 or various Motorola and Sony models. Screen-on times for basic reading of text is excellent - around 2 hours and 45 minutes for 10% of the battery - and for my average all-day moderate use, I'm confidently getting towards the end of Day 2. This is so different (almost universally) to my previous experience with Exynos-chipset based previous models. I remember the S10 being just awful, not getting me through an hour of reading even for the same 10% hit - and getting to bedtime, even for my moderate use, I had no chance! So a combination of chipset, bigger battery but also optimisations made to the way in which the Samsung software interacts with their hardware via OneUI.

Next compromise seems to be charging speed, for those who are not happy to Qi Charge overnight like me (at a decent-enough 15W). We're getting used to faster charging these days and although the battery in this phone is really good, as above, for those who cane it on a day out shooting video or long-session gaming, armed with even the best cable/charger you only get 25W charging so over an hour from flat to 100% and about 50% in around 25 minutes. Testing here with a UGreen 100W GaN charger and highly-rated data cable. Compared with even their own S22 Ultra here with 45W charging, there is a marked difference and the latter, with significantly bigger battery, takes less time for both the 50% and 100% charge. Would have been nice to see the same 45W charging, even if Samsung shy away still from what others are doing with super-fast speeds. There is Reverse Wireless Charging at 4.5W, the same as the Ultra for quick top-ups for your friend or accessories, which works well.

The phone arrived with Android 13 onboard and is currently keeping right up to date with Google's Pixel phones, month-on-month with Security updates. It's a fabulous reason to invest in the Samsung system over other Android OEMs' offerings, though as time goes on the trailing pack seems to realise that they have to pay attention to this in order to keep sales up and customers happy. Well, the customers who shout the loudest in tech press like us anyway! So yes, as I write, the phone has June 2023 security, delivered only days after Google released it to Pixels. The S23 is also running OneUI 5.1 with all that bells'n'whistles Samsung goodness!

You have to hand it to these OEMs with their proprietary 'switch' tools as cabled up between the already-set-up Ultra with about 200GB of data onboard, the Smart Switch across to the S23 is very, very good. Almost Apple standard switching between Galaxy devices. Everything in place as it was, many of the apps signed-in and ready to go (excluding, thankfully, the finance ones) and only a few lagging behind as (presumably) developers are not onboard with throwing the right flags to make use of the otherwise well-oiled, user-friendly system from Samsung and Google (even if it does take 90 minutes)!

There's no 3.5mm audio-out socket (another casualty of the economic streamlining in manufacture/perceived need) but there is Bluetooth 5.3 with all that brings, including the usual Samsung 32-bit output tuned by AKG, encompassing Dolby Atmos (though I do find that this makes little difference often - and here, too). As you would expect, depending of course on connected equipment, the output is simply wonderful - tested here with the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones (cable/USB-dongle/bluetooth) and AKG K701 unit (cable/USB-dongle) - far too loud for my ears, but turned down with solo piano playing, it's up there with what Sony Xperia produces, both able to utilise LDAC and aptX HD. Sound from phones with headphones has never been better than what we get even from lower-end phones in 2023.

Unlike the sound from the speakers! Now, I'm going to get picky here. The bottom line is that people using this phone, almost all of them, will be perfectly happy with the sound it produces. It's decently loud and tinkering with the sound settings, as above, can make some difference for some music genres for some ears. My difficulty is that I have better-sounding phones here, including Samsung's own Galaxy Z Fold4 which is excellent-sounding, loud and rich, Motorola's Edge 30 Neo and Ultra and Sony's Xperia 5 Mk.IV - to name a few.

The S23 is a small phone, let's be clear - so maybe we can't expect the speakers to produce the same quality of output that physically bigger phones can with more space for sound to move around etc. As I say, it's really not bad - in fact, it's very good - if only I didn't have others to compare it with! The other issue related to being small is the stereo separation, soundstage, width of impact when watching/listening in front of the face. I found that 6" away from my nose, the stereo was fine - impactful and significant enough - but 12"-18" away (where for most of us it needs to be to watch any video content) the stereo impact has all-but gone. It almost might as well be mono, frankly. Same is not true of the S22 Ultra at all, so I think this must be down the physics and the distance between the speakers. Shame. But that's one of the compromises in order to get a dinky little phone that many of us will decide to swallow (those of us who still care about speakers in phones, that is)!

The Ultrasonic under-glass fingerprint scanner is superb. Much better than any optical one I've tried and up there with physical capacitive arrangements. Never thought I'd say that! Registration is swift and testing with other people here, secure and reliable. That is, assuming it has time to work - as the Face Unlock is equally excellent, quick, unfussy registration and superbly reliable in use thereafter. I've had terrible trouble this week trying the get a Motorola phone even register my face for the same purpose, which was a nightmare and often is with their phones. What joy to come back to this system that is so much better.

I'm a great fan of DeX (and Motorola's Ready For) as regular readers and listeners of the Phones Show Chat Podcast (which has now, incidentally been going for 14 years and 750+ weekly shows) will know. I know it's niche and the target user-base probably restricted to businesspeople on the move, hot-desking and connecting to tablets, Chromebooks, NexDock units, Windows laptops and the like, but for me it's fun! I love to be able to plug the cable in and completely control my phone with my keyboard, mouse and big monitor - even getting pass-through audio. It makes me feel connected and that this 'pocket computer' could actually be (within reason) a person's main computing device. There are other tools of course that go part-way there, like Microsoft's Phone Link/Link to Windows, but none are as comprehensive as what Samsung and Motorola are doing - including cabling up to the TV and conducting desktop computing there instead - or using it to play stored audio/video from the phone. It's super to see it all in action. For me, in terms of productivity, it's probably not in any way critical, but I find myself instantly missing it when not using a Samsung/Moto supporting phone.

seems to be solid on all counts really. Cellular I can only test here with 4G but it seems good and reliable compared with other devices I have here - for voice calls and data, tested with broadband (WiFi 6e capable) and signal is again solid on two networks, Bluetooth range seems very good and reliable, NFC seems to work excellently well pairing with my headphones and paying at the supermarket and GPS tested here with various location-based apps and services appears to lock quickly and maintain that well enough.

A bit like iOS and the Pixel 5 (and better than many Android phones), Samsung does a pretty good job of allowing user-control of on-screen fonts/zoom/elements to make it work better-than-some on a smaller screen - keeping content more readable but laying it out helpfully for eyes too. Nothing like a big Ultra screen of course, but it’s clear that it’s been well thought out. In fact - it’s just perfect - well maybe if Status Bar icons/text was bigger (without having to change system font/zoom) it would be the cherry on the (already-delicious) cake!

The OneUI 5.1 layer on top of Android is really very good and usable. In many ways much better than anything else out there in Androidland. It's full of bells'n'whistles and what's not there, can usually be picked up in the Play Store, Galaxy Store or via GoodLock Modules. Talking of which, here's a short summary of the ones which I make use of and for what.

allows the user to remove the (pointless) Battery Icon (when there’s a % display available optionally), remove the BlueTooth Icon, remove the NFC Icon, add the date to top-left of the Status Bar, remove VoLTE and other Network Icons just taking up space. ClockFace offers oodles of ways to modify one’s AoD Clock and LockScreen too, even on top of what OneUI already offers, LockStar gives even more granular control of AoD and LockScreen elements, Home Up enables the change of the horizontal Samsung App Drawer to Vertical (though you can't get rid of the 'recent' block at the top yet and have to swipe-up to get rid of the drawer), change the way in which Folders pop-up and use background colours for each, edit text, style, shape, corners and to change the layout of the Recents from Carousel to grid to List, to Stack - or whatever you want, pretty much. Sound Assistant gives customised controls of the Volume Panel, so sliders for each function in use, change colours, change the slider ‘steps’ (from the illogical 0-150 to 0-100 for example), RegiStar customises the Settings page - hide email address, hide name, change order of Settings in the list and controls what the Power Button can do with press/hold with limitless options. These are the few I use myself, but there are tons more, all free, included - just find what you want - how you want to customise your phone - and download the modules. Fabulous system.

One of the elements of OneUI that I regularly reflect upon is something that I don't believe anyone else does. That is manual brightness control of the AoD. Auto if you want it, but manual override too. So many phone systems are getting too clever for their own good with AI/algorithms simply getting auto AoD brightness so wrong that I often can't see anything on the screen at all. My Pixel 7 is one of the worst offenders, Sony's not far behind and Motorola throws in the towel, plumping for their excellent Peek Display instead! So well done Samsung. You are field and class leaders in this respect. The more time one spends with a Samsung phone, the more one realises that so much is so well thought out and it's no surprise that they appear to be Google's Android ambassador on earth!

I can't hope to cover all the elements of OneUI 5.1 here but hopefully I can highlight the stuff which I think are impactful, as above, along with Wallpapers galore, Modes and Routines for even more control of your phone's activities, dynamic widgets such as weather and battery (much like Pixels'), tweaks to split-screen, adjustments to Pop-Up View, lots of stuff in the camera app including baking Expert RAW inside instead of being a stand-alone app, smarts in the Phone App emulating some of what Google is doing with Pixel phones (maybe not quite so well) which does often rely on the user sticking with Samsung's own apps - and the list goes on.

There's a bunch of doubled-up Samsung apps included which Google can provide themselves, but to be fair many users might well prefer to use Samsung's internet browser instead of Chrome or any other, Samsung Email, Pay, Gallery, Contacts, Phone and so on. Many of them are very capable clients, some do stuff better than Google's apps do and vice-versa. For the person willing to bake themselves into The Samsung Way, making good use of their own apps and services may not be a bad way to go. But as always with Android, you don't have to! Choose your own way! Anyway, it's a veritable playground which makes the whole Samsung system even more attractive to not only the masses, but also the nerds and geeks amongst us! Users won't get bored like they might with a Pixel or iPhone!

Having enjoyed using Motorola's recent take on the so-called Macro function in their latest phones, it was a shame that close-focus on the S23 is not so great. However, to be fair, the user can get pretty close by shooting at higher resolution than the Moto's offer and cropping in anyway! There's me sounding like I know anything much about digital photography again, when I'm best leaving this section to others who do! But before I go there, I will tell you what I find. The camera app looks very iOS these days with a very similar base-layout for look/feel and controls. We have a triple-camera setup here with, for such a small phone, surprising capability. There's a 50MP f/1.8 main camera with OIS, a 10MP f/2.4 telephoto which affords the user 3x Optical Zoom and again OIS and a 12MP f/2.2 wide-angle shooter. Samsung boasts Super Steady video supporting 8K@30fps with stereo sound recording. Round the front, that large Selfie is a 12MP f/2.2 unit which supports the shooting of 4K@60fps. As I write, Samsung have just updated the Camera app with a 2x Zoom setting inside the Portrait setup (which previously only had 1x and 3x), so development all the time is what you get with Samsung. Fed up with all those options? Install GoodLock's Camera Assistant for even more tinkering and tweaking!

I have shot a number of test photos and videos, and they all look excellent to me. Good colour, nice and sharp but not unusably over sharp, good in low light too (within reason) and some of those 'smarts' really are smart as Samsung and Google develop in tandem, it seems. Anyway, for a much better deep dive I'll do my usual trick and point you to the review over at GSMArena as they pixel-peep, analyse and push the photography hardware/software in all directions. It starts here and in short, they conclude that the phone "offers an improved camera experience thanks to faster Night Mode shooting". But do go and read all the nitty-gritty for much more, look at their samples and video footage for a rounder view.

In conclusion, I declare that the Samsung Galaxy S23 is a stonkingly good phone. Improved battery performance is always high on my list, the size and build quality is fabulous, the chipset and RAM aid smooth running all-round, the AMOLED panel is up there with my Moto's pOLED, the storage options and read/write speeds are great (at least for this 256GB unit), attention to updates is second to none in the Android World from Samsung, even better than Google's for Pixel, the biometrics and connectivity shine, the software suite under OneUI including DeX, audio via headphones is super and expandability is also second to none - the list goes on and on! But most of all, I love the dinky size. There's nothing on the screen that my fingers can't reach and the smart UI is beautifully arranged to make the most of it.

I'd like to see 45W charging with cable - and a charger in the box. And a simple soft TPU, come to think of it! I'd like to hear slightly better speaker output and stereo separation but understand the physical restraints - and totally accept that 95% of users will be more than happy - and if we're being picky here, I'd quite like a close-up camera to match Moto's!

Anyway, for those who are happy to embrace the way in which Samsung arranges things around Android (and Android around it!), those looking for a smaller phone which is still a flagship (remaining a rare commodity yet a while), appreciate the plethora of ways in which the system can be adapted for one's personal use and tastes, it's a no-brainer. As long as one can afford the £899 of course. The price of this is reducing. As I write, I have seen a deal for the very same in the UK for £749, so scouring the (good) used market, waiting for sales - or prices to drop, could be the way to go. Perhaps convince yourself that it might be a lot of money, but you could still be using it in 2028 before support completely drops away. Cost of owning, per month, between now and then, might make things feel a little different. Very highly recommended.

As for me and my dilemma between the giant S22 Ultra and this, there are only really a handful of differences. The 45W charging, the included and silo'd S-Pen, the bigger screen for consuming much more, the 10x Zoom camera which I have to admit can be very handy, even if only as a telescope(!), the 108MP main camera module, bigger battery (though in terms of longevity I think the S23 does better) and more RAM (though as I say above, I have come up against no difficulties having 8GB rather than 12). I can't decide for myself! I can see both sides (of the size argument, particularly) and want to keep both phones! What a world we live in!

Abigail (2024)

A bunch of lowly hoods are brought together in the typical nobody-knows-each-other style, not supposedly sharing anything about themselves, ...