Sunday 30 July 2023

Samsung Galaxy Watch

This is a running commentary piece as I invite you to join me as I set up my first SmartWatch, work out what it does, how to do it and what I initially conclude about the whole concept. I have recently been playing with Samsung phones, for which I endure a love/hate relationship and have done for years. Loving the oodles of bells and whistles that the Samsung World offers users of their gear, but hating the way that it's not the same clean, AOSP-based experience which others get close to, such as Sony, Motorola, Fairphone, Nokia and (to some degree still) Pixel.

So the best place to start (maybe) is with a Galaxy Watch. I have an S23, S22 Ultra and Z Flip4 here to test it with, so thought I'd get stuck in. Before I do, however, I do also acknowledge that there are other, simpler smartwatches out there which might, given what I have said about love/hate, ultimately suit me better as I switch between devices ad infinitum!

The first hurdle for me is having a watch on my wrist at all. I used to love wearing watches when I was a kid back in the 60's/70's as I viewed them as a (relatively) cheap way to get some interesting tech to play with (and stopped me unscrewing transistor radios to see how they worked)! Remember those red-display LED watches? The Casio calculator watches? I loved them - alongside my film cameras. Stuff to fiddle with! Since about the time that I got into Psion Organisers, I ditched the watch, so my wrist has been free of restrictions for now about half my life, 30 years.

I did struggle with it at first, but a watch strap which arrived with my loan Galaxy Watch4 made the transition and re-introduction to the tethering surprisingly tolerable. I amazed myself at how quickly I got used to it and how comfortable it is. The silicone strap which comes in the box, incidentally, is nasty and intolerable to my skin (as I understand it to be for many, many people). These straps are also too short for me. I'm a big bloke with big everything(!) including wrists - and they simply don't go round it. The cheap and cheerful strap from Amazon in question is elasticated, made from some cloth material and is just excellent. Recommended. Many thanks, incidentally, to Tim Evans of our Phones Show Chat Podcast supporting MeWe Group for the loan of watch/strap for testing.

Please remember that this is a running commentary of my thoughts and findings as I launch into this. It's not a review and my thoughts and recordings of findings may, because of this, be disjointed. I say here what I find, in the order I find it!

First things first, then, and install Samsung's 'Wear' app on the phone. Turn the watch on and let them start talking to each other. You can sign into your Samsung account (if you want to and are not already) to get various backup/restore functions and some other 'joined up' data-sharing stuff. But you don't have to. It nags me to buy an eSIM contract from my cellular provider (EE) a couple of times, but eventually stops and lets me use it just via the phone. If you want to, you can use the watch away from the phone and this is how you'd do it. Essentially, another SIM contract. I didn't want to as I couldn't see that I'd likely be separated from my phone at any point (and certainly don't want the financial burden of another contract)!

I initially connected the watch to the Galaxy S23. As an aside, I was able to use DeX on my PC to open the app and make it easier to set-up, using big screen, keyboard and mouse. From watch, to phone to computer! Here, I was able to learn about how the UI works, what services I can add, which functions to choose, which I have no interest in - and to get things going. It is clear that Samsung want users to have their own software installed, which is obvious I guess, as that's how users will get the most from the watch/phone combination.

I tried to install various Google apps and use them instead of Samsung's and some play ball, some don't. Some pre-installed apps of Samsung's can be uninstalled, some disabled, some only force-stopped. The following is a list of my findings detailing which you can do what with!

The Apps that you can’t uninstall (but bold ones in my list here can be Disabled, the rest only Force-stopped) - Accessibility, Alarm, Bixby, Calendar, Compass, Samsung Contacts, Customisation Service, Find my Mobile, Find my Phone, Gallery, Health Platform, Google Maps, Media Controller, Google Messages, Outlook, Samsung Global Goals, Buds Controller, Calculator, Samsung music, Voice recorder, Samsung Messages, Samsung Phone, Google Play Store, Recent Apps, Reminder, Samsung Health, Samsung Health Monitor, Samsung Keyboard, Samsung Pay, Samsung Text-to-speech engine, Settings, Stopwatch, Timer, Samsung Weather and World Clock.

You can't install Google's Phone app but when making or receiving calls it uses the Samsung Phone app on the watch. However, I was using the Google Phone App on the phone and it all seemed to work fine, apps talking to apps while humans talk to humans! On my test calls, both parties could hear each other well and the distance away from the phone seemed like a good range. You can install Google's Contacts App but Samsung's own one sits there on the watch anyway. Some of the time I wasn't 100% sure which of these apps the watch was actually using but the handshaking all seems to work fine, whatever it's up to!

The 'puck' charger in the box has a concave magnetic disk at one end and a USB-C plug on the other. This can be plugged into any outlet to charge and the watch 'sits' on the 'puck' to do so 'wirelessly'. You can also plug the USB-C end into a phone (at least, you can with a Galaxy phone - not tested others) and draw power to charge the watch from there. In my tests here it seemed to take about 90 minutes to charge from a mains charger, but as it seems to last through the day (with a normal pattern of 'companion-device' activity) most people will just charge overnight and start afresh in the morning. Those who don't want to do sleep-tracking, that is! For those folk, you'd better enjoy a long shower and leisurely breakfast while it catches up! Worth noting also that you can charge it with a Galaxy phone's Reverse Wireless charging if you don't have the 'puck' with you. In general use with me, even with tinkering around and testing, it’s no problem lasting a day. The series-5 is tempting me now though as it has an even bigger battery! And better glass for less scratching etc. on the front.

There was a system update waiting, so I allowed it to continue. This can be controlled by the app on the phone, though I'm still not quite sure which device does what in the loop/stages. I'm assuming that the phone downloads the update via wifi and then transfers the update file to the watch by bluetooth (as that part of the process seems to take a long time). It works itself out though, turns the watch off and on a couple of times, then all done. It's slow, but works fine.

If I lift up my arm sharply, the screen goes on, otherwise it seems to be off. I did read somewhere that it knows if you're looking at it and it stays on, but that doesn't seem to be the case for me as, after a few seconds, it goes off again. The time-out period can be set, but there's probably an even deeper-buried setting which I have not found yet which controls the stay-on-if-looking bit. You can set the watch screen to be always-on (if you want to charge it back up multiple times a day).

The heart rate monitor seems to be pretty accurate. I know very well how to take my heart rate reading manually, so have been able to check this. You can set it to check every 10 minutes, manually or constantly, depending on how you get on with battery. I'm not really in this project for the health stuff, but it does seem to do stuff that (even) the Apple Watch doesn't (as I understand it) like measuring Blood Pressure (although I read that the initial set-up needs to be calibrated by the use of 'proper' BP monitoring apparatus). Then there's all the exercise stuff which, again, I'm really not interested in and one reason why I think ultimately, a simpler smartwatch which is more about notifications and communication might end up being my preferred route. But each to their own and as I understand it from 'proper' reviews, the fitness stuff is smart and clever, with extensive useful data for those who want to launch into a life full of monitoring their fitness, body health, sleeping patterns and so forth. Check out reviews on YouTube for oodles of stuff about that.

I didn't try using the watch to pay for stuff, but ignoring Samsung Pay, I installed Google Wallet on the watch, using Play Store on the watch and others report that yes, you can then use it on a till at Tesco like you can a phone. For me, I'll just use my phone. Which will be in my pocket anyway! I guess that if I buy a ‘mobile plan’ from EE I could do this with the phone left at home. The watch let me add my Debit Card but only after contacting my bank, like it would for a new phone - so the bank is considering the watch a separate device from the phone it seems.

I’m really not sure that I understand what all this is doing, with particular regard to Play Stores and Apps, between ‘linked’ phone and on-watch. I decided that gBoard was a bit pointless on the watch with tiny, weeny QWERTY keyboard, so went to uninstall it from (what I thought was) the 'Watch' area on the phone but it then uninstalled it on the phone as well as the watch! So that all seems a bit lost on me. I do get the impression that I'm just misunderstanding though and more time with this would no doubt open my eyes as to what's what.

Incidentally, I switched phones to the S22 Ultra in the middle of all the above and it seemed to get very confused. First thing to say is that every time you switch phones you have to factory reset the watch, which is really annoying as I didn’t realise (I thought it was only Pixel Watch that did this) and set up banking on the watch first time. So then I had to do all the banking again - and my bank complains when I get to 9 registrations and I have to call them. (I thought this was one of the advantages Samsung had, not to do this reset. I know it won’t impact most people with one phone, but still.) I also know that there’s a Samsung ‘backup/restore’ function, but that doesn’t cover banking apps. Then, when I get to the second phone, it tells me that a bunch of (in my case Google) apps are installed already, but actually they are not and I have to go to each one and reinstall. So why is it telling me that they are already installed? The system does seem to get very confused when switching between phones. I guess they don’t want people to.

I am finding lots of buried settings as usual with Samsung, for example, under Advanced Features>Custom Keys - to change the long-press on the Home Button to be Google Assistant (instead of Bixby) after it has been installed of course. What is able to use the watch’s own speaker is a bit hit and miss, too. So for example, Samsung Music can, YouTube Music can’t, Pocket Casts can’t, Amazon Music can’t - those which can’t simply route the output to the phone (or connected bluetooth device, headphones, speaker or whatever).

There’s no sign of the Galaxy Store (that I can see) and (unlike Samsung usually) it’s routing all the watch stuff through Google’s Play Store - even the watch faces. I’m guessing this must be something to do with them having adopted WearOS and trying to get into bed with Google more? Talking of Watch Faces, there's thousands of them, many free! They have opened this up to anyone to develop (and charge if they like) in the Play Store. An unfathomable amount of choice which you could spend weeks negotiating!

I really quite like the notifications - a quick chirp (or vibrate or silent), glance down at the wrist, see what it is, take action or ignore and move on. I have the screen-off set to the maximum of 1 minute, so not enough time to get glasses, but I can usually work out what it says. There is a font option in settings to make it all bigger, but of course if you do this, there’s less on the screen without scrolling. Notification sounds and vibration patterns can be adjusted from a bunch of choices, too, which is great that users are not just stuck with one.

I’m trying to work out whether having this wrist-based notification facility encourages me to then have a dinky phone linked (S23, Flip4) tucked away in the pocket, accessed less - or that it gives me permission to have a BIG phone linked (S22U), so that it, too, can be tucked away, but when it’s out and in use, one has all the advantages of a big screen, S-Pen, more power etc. I guess part of that depends on size of pocket and if one wants one-handed use!

So laying aside all the biometrics, fitness and exercise, the benefits for me seem to be firstly the fun-factor - it’s another gadget to tinker with and explore - and a very useful echo for Notifications and telling the time! I have got used to using it quickly - and setting up efficiently - with Tiles etc. It will also save getting the phone out to control Home devices (SmartThings), control music playback on the phone, a remote control for the TV, quick check on the weather, appointments - certainly time and date.

What would be interesting, given that I really don’t need to use all the fancy biometrics, is to see what kind of functionality one would get with, say, a Sony or Moto phone. Trouble is, that to test that, I’d have to (yet again) factory reset it! “Advanced health and fitness tracking features, including ECG and blood pressure monitoring, tracking your heart rate and blood pressure on demand are exclusive to Samsung phones. Also remote camera control and AR Emoji watch faces. But you'll still be able to receive notifications, track your workouts and sleep, and more.”

Using with a Non-Galaxy Phone involves the following, which I did... Watch factory reset. Motorola Edge 30 Ultra on. I did not sign into my Samsung account, just skipped it. Skipped offer for eSIM again. Skipped offer to install their suggested apps. Had to install the Wear app on the Moto in order to make it do anything, even pair up, so now have the UI as-if it’s a Galaxy on the phone. I was able to use the same ‘Digital Dashboard’ Watch Face. The Health monitor (for BP and ECG) seem to work. The Heart Rate monitor seems to work.

My first observation is that it’s much faster doing stuff around the UI, like installing apps, for example - is all that Samsung bloat slowing it down horribly when using a Samsung phone? Checking everything through Knox? I can’t really see anything on the Moto that I want and is missing, which goes to show that it works fine (for me at least) with any Android phone with the only tedious caveat being that it has to be set up from scratch each time.

I tried all this again using the Samsung Cloud and a backup I made from the previously used watch. The restore, though it seemed to go through the procedure, did not restore the apps that I had installed, like YouTube Music for example amongst a list of others, and I had to go through to the Play Store on the watch and install them all again. Maybe this is a Galaxy-only feature - so I tried again with a Galaxy phone but the same thing happened. All those apps that should have been a part of the backup were simply not restored and I had to start again - even though, as I say, the restore process seemed to go through the paces.

You can invert the watch display for use on the other arm, to make the buttons on the ‘outside’ nearest to hand. There is a setting to control gestures (Quick Launch) - one of which is to double-dip a clenched fist to launch whatever app you like. If you set it to Torch, you can also tap it to get an SOS sequence when lit.

The physically rotating bezel from the 4 Classic (not this standard one) has gone in the 5-series (but has now returned with the 6 Pro after much complaint, it seems). The way that those without do navigation, is by swipes on the screen and a ‘virtual’ bezel around the circumference - so part of the OLED - which works OK but I can see how a physical bezel would be better for moving between menus and reducing screen-swiping which makes one clean it often.

The Super AMOLED screen is bright, colourful and sharp enough for my eyes! 1.4” and 450x450 pixels. I thought I preferred the oblong shape of the Apple watch but now, on reflection, I’m not so sure. This feels more like a real watch, being round. IP6/8 is present and MIL-grade aluminium build. There’s only 16GB storage here - but then I guess the question is, apart from apps, what is one likely to want to store on a watch? Or maybe I’m missing the point? You can download music to it, but if you have your phone handy anyway, might as well use that and control it from the watch? Perhaps greater impact on those who use it away from the phone with an eSIM.

The Samsung Camera app is really an echo for the phone’s camera app so you can see on the watch screen what the phone is seeing, fire the shutter, timer (or instant), start video recording and (with nimble-enough fingers on the watch screen) zoom in and out by pinch/splay. There is a very slight delay between the two, but nothing unusable - it’s not for panning at F1 meets!

Here’s a scenario I’m been complaining about for aeons - lovely Sony headphones on head, YouTube Music playing a playlist of stuff (I do this a lot to let it introduce me to stuff I don’t know), the only way to check to see what the unknown track is - look at the phone (which could be in another room, if busy with chores). Now, a quick look at the wrist will tell me (if using the Media Playback app) what's playing. Also full control for skipping etc. (which I know you can do with the controls on the Sony headphones, but this is arguably quicker/easier). It seems happy to pair with the phone and headphones at the same time - due to the multi-connect of the Sony headphones, perhaps - or maybe that's Samsung's doing too.

It's been great playing with the watch and seeing what it can do. I've been very surprised at how comfortable it has been on my arm (with that strap) but I think that you need to have a reason for wanting the burden/lump on your arm at all times (and thinking about something else to charge every bleedin’ day) - or more likely for me, it becomes an interesting tech-toy.

I’m sure others will say how incredibly productive it is for them in terms of notifications and not having to get their phone out for quick-checking (and probably 101 other reasons), but even back in the day when I was working, I really don’t see that it would have helped me much. I really don’t need (or want) the exercise and health stuff (interesting as it is to see in passing), but can’t deny that it would be useful to have in the drawer, set up with a phone, for bouts of illness. It would have been really useful, for example, when I had Covid, though having said that, an £8 pulse/BP monitor thingie from Amazon did all I ended up needing.

The whole thing feels a bit like a toy to me, yes. Great fun to play with but as with most toys, the novelty wears off - and for me at least, comfortable as Tim’s strap made the experience beyond what I had feared, I’m done with it. After all this Samsung stuff, it's been a great ride but is a relief to get back to Moto, Sony, Nokia, Pixel, Fairphone - and the simpler life! Maybe what I need to do is explore a non-Samsung Galaxy SmartWatch so as to get the stuff I want to use but not feel hemmed-in by stuff I don't. Funnily enough, the exact same place I end up at with Galaxy Phones!

Friday 21 July 2023

Samsung's S-View Flip Cover

I'm testing this Samsung original case here with my Galaxy S22 Ultra, but there's also a version for the S23 Ultra that I know of, and maybe more models. It's certainly an impressive sounding piece of kit, but I've always hated flip-cases and wallet cases! What sort of chance will it stand with narrow-minded me?! Will the smarts on offer outsmart my tiny brain?

This premium-feeling case is soft and velvety to the touch but is actually hard plastic underneath. Like most of these kind of 'flip' cases there's a firm plastic shell inside where the phone is placed, though in this example the case colouring (in mine, Burgundy) continues around that shell. Many feel like a glued-in afterthought. It needs to be pushed/clipped in there and it does so reassuringly firmly. There are no 'gaps' for volume/power buttons but supplied plastic ones which also feel premium, firm to the touch and clicky.

The cutouts on the back for the camera elements are perfect and even protect the 'naked' edges, making the phone lie flat on the desk - no more rocking! The soft, velvety feel continues around the curves, edges, bottom and top. On the front there's a 'slot' cutout for the top speaker/earpiece so that you can take calls and listen to music, unimpeded.

When I first picked it up, I thought that the 'front' cover was sloppy. It kind of slides around when moved. I thought I wasn't going to like this, because of that. However, the reason for this becomes clear soon enough as you realise it's designed so that the 'flap' is 'loose' enough to sweep right around the back (like a Kindle Cover) so it doesn't get in the way if the user wants to use the phone with it around the back, getting the 'flap' out of the way. There's also another benefit to this arrangement and design, which I'll come to.

Unlike many Kindle cases, the 'flap' doesn't come together when closed with any kind of magnet. It will just open with gravity, though it's nicely 'weighted' and 'snaps' closed with gravity, when you go past the 90-degree angle. When this happens, the phone knows it's happened. It knows that you have an S-View on, and shuts down the screen. Well, most of it. Another tease!

On the bottom, there are oversized cutouts for USB-C cables to connect and to get the S-Pen out. They both work well for me, taking all sorts of sizes of charging cable-ends into the former and allowing my fingers to get the S-Pen out easily enough with the latter. The whole case in the hand feels like a premium outfit and easily justifies the £45 RRP (though shop around as it's often cheaper of course). And we haven't even got to the primary function yet!

OK then so we've got here - yes, in the top-right (portrait) corner of the front of the case, there's a cutout. An oblong one. It's about and inch wide and two inches high. When the case is closed is when this leaps into action driven by a menu item in Settings (Cover Screen) which pops up when the case is fitted, becoming very similar to the one which adorns the Galaxy Z Flip-series phones. And the similarities don't end there - the resulting 'virtual' window which appears behind the oblong 'gap' in the front of the case produces a bunch of functionality not dissimilar.

By default, you get a battery icon and percentage readout above a 'tall' digital clock (so 2 digits above another 2), under that, day and day of the month and top-left, an orange 'dot' to tell you if you have Notifications waiting. Like the Flip, if you double-tap it (or press the power button on the side), the virtual display leaps into action. If you single-tap it or try to swipe it without double-tapping first, again like the Flip, nothing happens. I shall get fed up with saying "like the Flip" so perhaps from now on I'll just point out when it's different to it! One last word though, that clearly unlike the Flip, it's in portrait, not landscape.

By default, if you (after double-tapping) swipe right, you get a list of Notifications waiting which you can scroll up and down. If you tap on any of them you are invited to open up the phone to read further details or there's a 'clear' button. So no chance of any reply by voice or tiny keyboard! Leave the display alone for a few seconds with any of these actions and it returns to the base-clock etc. Swipe left instead of right and (by default) it gives you the Music Player (when first invoked it asks you which you'd like to use - much like Samsung's Edge Panel for Music Player). You then get information about what's playing - artist, title and service being used, with Pause/Play and Skip forward/back a track buttons. Unlike the Flip, you can't swipe down to get various Brightness, WiFi, Cellular, Bluetooth (and so on) Quick Toggle controls.

Before I dive into Settings and menus, I'll go back to the design for a second and highlight the other feature invoked because of that 'floppy flap' cover. The oblong, when flipped around the back, lines up perfectly with the whole of the camera array, so unlike many, many of these 'flip' or 'wallet' cases which completely prevent to use of the camera (when open/flapped back), this makes it work brilliantly well. Fiendish. Anyone would think it had been designed for the purpose!

If you open the flap up and head into the phone's main Settings, you'll now see, as mentioned earlier, a new item called Cover Screen which is where all the rest of the fiddling around can be done to make the exterior display how you want it. Most of the action is in the Clock Style option, where you can choose from 12 different clock faces and within each one, customise how it might look/behave. Depending on which one you select there are different levels of customisation, colours, text, movement of daft-looking cartoon creatures and so forth (I'm getting too old for this)! If you want to change the background colour, you can select that from any of your photos on the phone, too. The usual Samsung-style playground, though this doesn't appear to have been opened up to people to 'theme' like AoD on the main screen, via the Galaxy Store.

There are also some baseline toggles - one to tell it to open the phone's screen up when you open the flap (which will work in collusion with whatever other biometrics you have in place), show Notifications on/off (though I can't imagine why you'd want them off) and to turn on the mini-screen (brighten it up) when Notifications come in (or not). I can't find any controls for anything further, like for someone who doesn't want Music Player to the right - or like with the Flip phones, a further choice or Weather, Calendar, Agenda or the whole bunch of stuff supplied there. So yes, it's a dumbed-down version of what you get on the Z Flip phones.

In my testing here, wireless (and reverse wireless) charging still seem to work through the case, even when the flap is folded back but I guess that your mileage may vary depending on the strength/quality of the charger.

The S-Pen doesn't interact with the Cover Screen at all - you can't write on it, even if you extract the pen when the case is closed. However, if you take the pen out, then open the flap, you will then be presented with the Note Taking screen (assuming that's how the phone has been set up to have done that when there's no cover in place). Furthermore, if you scribble a note and close the flap back up, the Cover Screen will go back to doing what it always does but the screen underneath will retain your scribbled note (unless you had saved or deleted it previously). So yes, on the fly note taking on the flip of a flap!

Timers, alarms and phone calls can be handled by the system too. If you have a timer or alarm set, you get a control up to stop/restart/snooze by 'swiping' one of the icons up across the screen. However, there is a caveat here - you have to use Samsung's own Clock app! All you get with, for example, Google's Clock App is a link to the App pop up and no other option but to open up the flap and deal with it on the phone's screen in full.

As for phone calls, you can receive calls by long-swiping the green 'answer' circle, or reject them by swiping the red 'end call' circle but there's way to make calls that I can see. But, you guessed it - the caveat is the same. The coding for the control of the outside screen only works if you use Samsung's own Phone app, not Google's Phone App. Incoming text messages if using Google Messages really confuses the display, which starts flashing around(!), but using Samsung Messages it works fine like any other Notification.

So yes, if you want to make full use of all the functions, use the Samsung apps! I'm used to working with Google's Apps as default, so are the rest of the functions still worth the money for me? They certainly are. It's a super case with lots of great functionality. For someone who is happy to make even more use of it by using Samsung's communication Apps, it's a no-brainer. Go and buy one!

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Sony Xperia 10 Mk.V

It's so very tempting to compare the Sony Xperia 10 Mk.V with my Xperia 5 Mk.IV as I have it here, but that really would be quite unfair as they are different beasts, so I shall focus instead on the 10 Mk.V with the 10 Mk.IV instead. But forgive me if I slide into the former here and there!

Thanks to Sony's UK PR for sending this one over for review which on release in June was pitched in the market at £399. The Mk.IV, the year before, was £429, so a slight reduction in fact with some key improvements. It's less than half the price of the 5-series and aimed at a different buyer altogether with a list of top-end functions and capabilities not making it across the divide in cost/value.

The question is whether or not it represents value, for that target buyer, compared to other handsets doing similar things - so mid-range. It's going to be hard for Sony to beat the likes of Xiaomi, Moto and Redmi, feature-for-feature on pricing, but Sony also has a very clear fan-base and customer loyalty who like the styling, class and quality of their hardware.

The phone is slightly taller and wider than last year's model but about the same thickness, but to be honest, unless you have the two next to each other you'd hardly notice. Ever so slightly bigger screen at 6.1" over 6" but retaining that now-signature 21:9 aspect ratio, so good for wide-screen content. The panel is also much the same - a very bright and colourful Triluminos display with Gorilla Glass Victus protection against impact and scratching. Likewise, it retains the IP6/8 rating against dust and water, which you often do not get with many of the aforementioned Chinese-based challengers.

The similarities go on, with the more-than-capable (for target audience) SnapDragon 695 chipset (so very well-performing as I found on my Motorola Edge 30 Neo), the almost unique now microSD Card tray slot and 128GB storage in the base model and 6GB RAM (though there is a variant of the new model with 8GB RAM). The very same plastic frame and back are in attendance with pros and cons, as always, and weight is almost identical. It doesn't feel 'cheap' being plastic but it does feel light and not so substantial as the 5-series units (at a very similar size). It actually feels very nice in the hand, with one-handed use easily executable and fine pocketability, too. You won't know it's there!

One of the big changes for me is certainly the inclusion of stereo speakers, which is a much better idea than the previous model's mono bottom-firing one. The not-so-good news is that it really isn't a patch on the quality or volume of the pair in the 5-series and although yes, they are both front-firing, in my tests here I have found them far from providing the latter's room-filling sound. On a desk in front of you, fine. Held in front of the face, watching video is fine, too, though the stereo separation and balance between the speakers is, again, not like the 5-series, more like the faux-stereo we often speak of here at the Phones Show Chat Podcast (now, incidentally well on the way to 1000 shows)! Still, a very clear improvement from last year's 10-series model. The 3.5mm audio-out socket has also been retained, like the rest of the Xperia range, which can continue to be used with the 24-bit audio processing and sounds great with headphones, wired or not, as there's also the same Bluetooth 5.1 here as before. Note that there's no Dolby Atmos here, only a couple of Sony's own tools like DSEE Ultimate, 360RA and Upmix.

Android 13 comes installed on the phone with the same thin layer on top of the OS. Some tweaks and changes to the core, but nothing radical. People familiar with AOSP will feel very much at home and new users of Sony hardware won't be too bamboozled by having to learn about how to negotiate a heavy skin. Sony remain tight-lipped about how many OS updates their phones will get but my guess is, based on previous for this low-to-mid-range it'll be one more. Android 14 but probably not 15. The Google Security updates have the same story, really, being under the control of the OEM - at time of writing in July 2023, I have June's patches on this review unit.

The main camera has been bumped to 48MP from 12 but as with all these quad-bayer units, the software defaults to shooting at 12MP anyway. I can't seem to find any way to force the camera to shoot at the full 48MP resolution which is an odd omission as it's usually included by OEMs within these kinds of arrangements. Again, target audience and all that. The kind of user who doesn't actually want to use, nor understand, the fancy tools available in the rest of the Xperia range but rather have a point-and-shoot for well-generated outcomes. And for that it's great - with good results in decent light but may disappoint when light is low with some noise and pixilation if pushed (for anyone with their sights on anything other than social media posting and family-snap sharing). There's no optical zoom here but again, users will be happy with the digital version, even if photographers would frown! Modes in photo and video are available to tinker with (if people fancy a dive into manual settings) but not too many so as to confuse the aforementioned user and target audience. My guess is that not one of them is going to realise that video shooting is 1080p only!

There's no wireless charging still, again, something for further up the range, but what you do get is a mind-numbingly good battery life! It's the same 5000mAh as last year's unit, but Sony seem to have worked even more magic with the phone making the already super battery from before now even better, stronger and longer-lasting. For me in light use mode, I can certainly consider this a two-day battery (in fact maybe some way into Day 3). But even for heavier use, there's somewhere between little and no chance of killing it before bedtime! This is a good thing because the charging speed is not a fast one, whatever charger you use - there's not one in the box - and certainly seems to take a couple of hours to do so. But most users could charge this overnight every second night, I reckon.

The rest of it is pretty much as-was last year. Not huge changes, which seems to be the Xperia way. Sony making little changes each year to each of their devices in the range. Nothing radical, evolutional. And that's good in many ways as users can be familiar with their hardware, software and services.

For those looking for more, there is the 5-series, as I said, for significantly more money where you'll get a hardware shutter button, an Always on Display, an optical zoom, all those 'specialist' Sony apps (Photography Pro, Cinema Pro, Videography Pro and Music Pro), a more up-to-date, faster and more efficient chipset, Dynamic Vibration, HDMI (Display Port) functionality, wireless charging, aluminium frame and more. For the rest of the undemanding users out there, this is a super little everyday phone, does 95% of what the target audience will appreciate - and provide them with the class of Sony products that they have got used to having around them.

Yes, you could get a different feature-set in another phone for £50 or even £100 less, but I think that Sony know what they're doing here. There's a huge number of people out there who will appreciate what they are doing with this and without hesitation, would be going for this phone over 101 other cheaper ones. People who like Sony style, are somewhat budget-conscious, don't want the flagship features of a much more expensive Xperia, but still want (to be seen with, maybe) a Sony-branded product in their bag or pocket.

Monday 17 July 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 - I Love You, I Don't. 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 comes 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 physically, her frustration in that she can’t arouse him and the resulting graphically delivered compromise they come to, you can imagine, as she cries out in pain during sex.

Birkin's 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 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 with her (and Padovan, maybe) 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 women can end up accepting whatever is thrown at them 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 - and 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 seems 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.

Saturday 1 July 2023

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of June 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 751 - Admirable Restraint
Saturday 3rd June
Steve and I welcome a podcast newcomer this week in the shape of Ben Barling who tells us all about his mobile path of devices, what he uses now and how he makes the most of not needing the latest and greatest. So Jelly, Oppo, older Pixels and the like. We also major on new headphones from Fairphone, Samsung S-Series and some App suggestions.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 752 - CarPlay, S23 and Shorts Creation
Saturday 10th June
Why not join Steve, Yogesh Puri and I for an hour as we catch up on all things mobile phone in our weekly audio podcast. We find out what gear Yogesh uses, review the week's Apple stuff, chat about the lastest Android Beta and loads more, including May's PSC Photo of the Month. Available in all the usual places, so enjoy.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Extreme Tablets from Space
Sunday 11th June
Gareth and I chat about Garmin, solar power, LG StanbyME, Lenovo Tab Extreme, Nothing Phone, Pixel 8 leaks and rumours, Sightful Spacetop, Apple’s Vision Pro, Evercade Vs Atomic Edition and much more! So why not join us for a fortnightly slice of tech twaddle (we're getting better at pretending we know what the feck we're on about)!

Whatever Works
Episode 187 - The Coffee Break!
Wednesday 14th May
Aidan and I are back with another hour of chaos as we plough through Whatever Works and what doesn't! We have a special drop-in guest this time, too - in the form of our very own Chris Kelly who gives us a deep-dive masterclass on all things coffee, beans, machines, filters and even how to roast-your-own! So why not join us, grab a fresh brew and put your feet up! Available via https://whateverworks.works/ and your podder as always.

Projector Room
Episode 140 - Ghosted Silo
Wednesday 14th June
Gareth, Allan and I return for another roundup of all things film, cinema and TV in our latest pod. Why not join us as we share our thoughts and scoop up yours, too. Themed Treat is David McCallum, Private Screening takes us to Japan, we maintain our Poker Face whilst wearing an Iron Mask and One Ranger has a Last Shift! Loads more as always, available now from the usual places, so enjoy!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 753 - Happy in the Heat
Saturday 17th June
Steve and I are joined this week by another first-timer on the show, Godfrey Lisk, who gives us an overview of his mobile path of devices, what he's using now and hopes for the future. Plenty more besides including more Duo discussion, Pixel pontification, Samsung scrutiny and Apple analysis! Available in all the usual places, so do join us for an hour.

Phones Show Chat
Episode 754 - iPhone Battery in a Samsung Sandwich
Saturday 24th June
Steve and I are back to chat about what's been happening in our mobile phone worlds this week. And yours! The Razr 40 Ultra, Replaceable Batteries, Zenfone 10, Intel Unison, the S23, the S22 Ultra, flip, fold and loads more! So do join us for an hour as we attack it all!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Vodafone and Three Up a Tree
Sunday 25th June
Gareth and I storm your Sunday again with samples of sanity amongst the senility! We go Splicing the S23FE with Synology, Jolly along the new Jelly, frustrate with the Fold, applaud Anker antics, get jovial with joysticks and enjoy JCB japes! Join us, why not! Or else.

Projector Room
Episode 141 - Red Sun Extraction
Wednesday 28th June
Gareth, Allan and I are back again with another fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we focus on the work of Steve Buscemi, deep-dive into Severance, consider an Extraction or II, pick up on a great 1971 Western and at the end of the evening, Climb Out of the Window! Loads of natter as always, loads of topics. Enjoy.


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

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