Glass Thoughts

It is really hard for me to form thoughts on new services as quickly as I would like. My initial excitement usually dulls in very quick order but not before I have shelled out some cash to use it. As much as I never think anyone wants to read my thoughts when there are far more popular takes, I do have a few things to say about photography apps.

Since reading No Filter last year I have been a little sad. The excellent behind the scenes story of Instagram from founding to acquisition made me miss the service even more. I am still filled with a longing for the old Insta days, unfortunately one that I know couldn’t exist today. It’s hard to believe that just 10 sort years ago Instagram was the popular up and coming app with all the buzz, but a decade is a long time on the internet and things change.

The modern version is 5 or 6 different things crammed into one app, and removes exactly what Instagram is for. This, understandably, has left many photographers out in the cold and a little bitter considering how much work they have put into the service over the last decade. So many have been looking for something new. In recent memory the app Gala arrived and looked promising but ultimately failed to keep my attention.

A Little Different

Glass is different though. It is set up as an anti Instagram and removes all of the foils that entrap almost anything that Facebook touches. The app is designed to display the photographs beautifully, removing almost all engagement traps. Likes, follower counts and a constant strive for influence is replaced by a constant stream of the latest images uploaded.

The design focuses on the images themselves and the details of them. Displaying privacy conscious EXIF data about the image giving you an insight into exactly how the image was shot. You get to not only see the images, but feel the desire behind them, if your a photographer of course and know your shutter speed from your aperture.

My first log in allowed me to follow a few people that I knew already, but also find others that took the kind of images I like to see and learn from. As an amateur shooter being able to peek behind the curtain and understand how a shot was made proves a great learning angle too.

Glass Intentions

The founders talk a great talk, and seem to be walking exactly as then intended. When talking to Om Malik they sold the service well and aimed it to fulfill exactly what I and many photographers were hoping for.

We’ve intentionally avoided any public counts. We don’t want Glass ever to become a popularity contest. We’re not home for influencers. We are a home for photographers. – Tom Watson, founder of Glass

There is zero counting and metrics going on. No followers (well I guess you could count them yourself if you want to), no hashtags and best of all no likes. I want that rush of dopamine as much as the next person, but double tapping is far too easy. Where as in Glass if you like a photo the only choice you have is to leave a comment, which feels much better.

With these metrics gone there is no algorithm at play currently. I am sure if the app grows there will be no choice but to tweak this slightly, for the risk of becoming unmanageable. Glass is no where near reaching a scale that needs more though putting into it, but only time will tell. I do fear that they will eventually feel the pain of volume, however with zero metrics there would be no point gaming the system anyway.

Which in short means that my trust in getting into the app feels very well placed currently. They have spoken publicly about the very straight forward way you are able to get your photos back out again should you wish to leave, which is also great. The iOS only limit also seems to be lifting with Android and web versions in the works, so hopefully everyone can join very soon.

Paying For It

However. Saying things like “We believe great photography can come from anywhere and anyone” is fine. But the anyone is only those that can stump up the £50 a year entrance fee. Don’t get me wrong I love the fact that paying money to support a service means none of the bad stuff that comes from free services. However the worry would be that Glass becomes just another service along side all the others.

If I want as many people as possible to see my shots then I have no choice but to post them every where else too. So when the next years subscription comes around am I willing to pay again to look at photos posted by others everywhere else too?

Reservations Prevail

My answer is probably yes, but the true telling will be how many people stick around in in a few months time. A few of my friends share similar feelings towards the new hotness app but I might have to cross my fingers and hope. Following high profile shooters is one thing, but I would like a mix of people I know.

As the opening few sentences gave way to a flood of my opinions I am still very bearish on the future. I can’t tell people how good a service is until I have used it for more than 14 days, and more so for a service that costs money and isn’t for everyone. My hope is that the grand plans for Glass keep on track and achieve even more, but my worry is the new hotness burns out and we all skulk back to Instagram again.

The Non Gamers Guide To Google Stadia

I don’t play many games. I tell myself that this is because I don’t have time, but really it’s because I have such an addictive personality that I’m scared I’ll lose myself in to it, and I’ve got things to do! I don’t have any console, but turns out I did have things I could use to play Google Stadia and I bet you do to.

What motivated all this was the fact there are some games that I want to play. You know those titles that everyone around you seem to be playing, and you just want to join in. The last title that did this to me was Red Dead Redemption 2 that I purchased a PS4 pro to play and before the month was out sat gathering dust, ending up being sold on a little later.

This time it’s Cyberpunk 2077. A title that I really didn’t want to have to buy hardware to run it, and really don’t want to pick up an old console to play it either. So, this is where Google Stadia comes in. The cloud streaming service that has been steadily improving over the last few months after poor release reviews, but might just be the place to play without having to splash too much cash on top of the line hardware.

What is it?

Googles solution to next-generation gaming is a streaming service that offers top of the line graphics without having to stump up the money for hardware. It’s a future that has been promised for some years now, and all of a sudden we have a few competing platforms that don’t work together.

What do you need?

Google Stadia requires very little to get you gaming. The most important of these things is a good internet connection. It doesn’t have to be the fastest in the world, but it needs to be reliable. In order to game wherever I wanted I’ve had to upgrade my router, but that shouldn’t be needed for most people. You will also need to check your data caps because you reusing upwards of 5GB per hour.

As far as hardware, you’ll first need a controller, any old one will do, I’ve been using a PS4 one I borrowed from a friend. As long as you can pair it with a mobile device you can get up and running in no time. One thing to bear in mind is that new Xbox controller don’t pair with all computers. You can stream stadia to ‘any device that runs chrome’. I’ve used my MacBook, iPad, iPhone and an ancient Chromebook all with good results. It also works flawlessly with mobile safari and also desktop Microsoft Edge.

You can splash for a Stadia specific controller if you like. Which I eventually did and picked one up for £35 from CEX, but they are available direct from Google. Opt for the Premier edition if you can afford it for £80, and you’ll get a Chromecast ultra too. This means you can play on your TV with ease but again you can pick these up cheeper at resellers.

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What can you play?

Not every game is available on Stadia so don’t get too excited. There is a large range of games that are growing all the time like Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Hitman 3 (soon). However, there are loads of games missing, so this won’t replace a home console completely — yet. One noticeable absence for me is FIFA 21, but it’s coming early this year.

If you sign up for a free stadia account you’ll get a copy of Destiny 2 and Bomberman online completely free. Opt for the Pro subscription, and you can choose from a whole range of games to play for free while your subscription is live.

How well does it work?

On its initial launch Google Stadia was littered with poor connection issues and huge lag. Thankfully, this is pretty much gone. Lag will depend on your internet connection first, which I have a pretty stable and fast one. There are some impossible to diagnose issues that sometimes crop up, usually ISP related and can be solved by rebooting your rooter.

The UI of webpages or native apps takes a little getting used to as well as working out the options you have available when signing up. Hopefully, as the service becomes more main steam things like this will improve.

Finding games and starting one from your library could use some work, but when it comes to playing, I have experienced very few issues in my super-fast internet bubble.

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What does it cost

There are quite a few moving parts here, and the website is more than a little confusing. Google of course push you towards signing up without much information. To play Cyberpunk 2077, which is all I set to do, it set me back the price of the game (£50). I borrowed a controller and used an iPad I already had.

There are two free games included with your account Destiny 2 and Bomberman Online, so you can start playing for free. Opt for a ‘Pro’ subscription for £8 a month, and you can claim any of a growing range of games. However, you can only play this while you have an active subscription. Outside the games a pro subscription allows you to stream in 4k, with HDR also available depending on the speed of your internet connection.

There is a free month trial with no purchase necessary to try out a few games and get the feel of the place. Allowing you to play all currently available pro games for a month without a charge. Google sell a Premier Edition controller and Chromecast Ultra for £80 which is the most versatile option, but you can pick these up for very little money in other places.

Games vary in price from a few pounds to large amounts depending on the package you wish to buy.

Sum Google Stadia up for me

If like me, you want to play the occasional game and don’t want to spend hundreds on hardware. Chances are you can get going with things you already have or for very minimal outlay. Unfortunately, not all games are available but there is a large library of releases.

The most important thing you will need is a fast, stable connection. If that sounds like you, Stadia is a great way to play almost anywhere.

Start The New Year Right With Fitness Totals

Since the launch of iOS14 we’ve seen an influx of widgets for your Home Screen. Apple having finally launched a viable way for you to not only customise the look of your phone, but also gain access to information you need at a glance. So being the health conscious individual I am, I wanted something to help me display the data I need at a glance right on my home-screen and here it is – Fitness Totals.

Managing your long terms fitness goals can be extremely difficult and many options out there seemed to be aimed at athletes rather than those that want to just get active, or shed a bit of the Christmas plump put on over the festive period. Instead of making you feel out of place, Fitness Totals places the emphasis on your weekly and monthly activity totals. Giving you the option to display walking/running, but also cycling, swimming, and wheelchair pushes/distance.

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You can choose from a whole range of different widget options in both light and dark mode, as well as 14 different app icons. Meaning that you can tailor the experience to your taste and view the data you value, whenever you need it.

I have been testing the app through its beta period and finding it extremely useful for comparing those stats that really matter to me. Having taken up cycling this year, and particularly enjoying walks with my dog, it’s great to get all the data I value but not have to worry about starting workouts or feeding my information into another service. Fitness Totals plugs straight into Apple Health and uses on device processing, so your data never leaves your phone. You can send your fitness totals to others if you choose to. The sharing features are particularly useful for a bit of friendly competition and give you a bit of a push!

It doesn’t matter if you’re active like me or just thinking about a New Year’s resolution. You can download Fitness Totals from the App Store for just £2.99 and keep focused on your health.

The MagSafe Wallet on Each Size iPhone

Yeah, I’m that guy this year. I couldn’t decide which iPhone size I wanted, so I got them all. It’s a weird position to be in but also provides me with some deeper insights into the real differences. I am not talking about specs and all those kinds of figures that people get too caught up in, the real things that make a difference to actually using the device. One of the strangest ones I have had to think about this year is the MagSafe wallet — so here is how it fits with each size iPhone.

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iPhone 12 Mini

The smallest of the bunch is, somewhat understandably, the worst one regarding the MagSafe wallet. The iPhone 12 Mini is the same width as the wallet and the magnet position mean it goes all the way to the bottom of the phone also.

Meaning no margin for error, but a nice neat look and a perfect fit — in theory. In reality this means it’s the hardest to get on fully, and it’s also the easiest to move off the edge of the phone. The small size of the iPhone 12 Mini also means that it is the hardest to get off when you need to get a card out. Mainly because the only option you have is pushing it down from the top not side to side.

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iPhone 12 Pro

The best compromise in the sizes of iPhones is arguably the best size to use the MagSafe wallet with. When fitting the wallet you have some room around the phone to position the wallet securely if you don’t get it right straight away. Also some space on the back of the phone to remove the wallet easier when you need to get a card out.

It lacks the neatness of the iPhone 12 Mini, but doesn’t look too bad at all. I have also found that when using the MagSafe wallet on the back of your iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12, the phone is easier to hold. I feel much more comfortable using my phone out the house without a case when the wallet is attached enabling a bit more grip.

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iPhone 12 Pro Max

If you’ve read this far, you’re interested in what the MagSafe wallet is like with the biggest iPhone ever! The iPhone 12 Pro Max is humongous so there is no getting around that the wallet looks, well a bit weird!

There is quite a bit of room around the wallet, given the expansive slab of glass. It also moves around quite a bit when you are trying to use the phone, due to needing significant hand gymnastics. Quite often the MagSafe Wallet will move from side to side, and occasionally making me a little nervous!

The positive is that there is plenty of room for you to move the wallet to the correct position if you get it wrong. However, I would love to see a bigger version for the Pro Max simply so it doesn’t look so lost on the back of the phone.

MagSafe, especially the wallet, feels a little like version one so I am sure we will see revisions on future phones. Stronger magnets and better connections are a must as well as different sized accessories. However, the MagSafe wallet is a great addition to my fairly minimal lifestyle, so I’m pretty happy so far.

Answering Your MagSafe Wallet Questions

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Despite ordering weeks ago, out of the blue my MagSafe Wallet turned up yesterday. I happily posted a picture on Twitter and all of a sudden quite a few people wanted to ask questions about it. So, I thought I might as well answer them all at once.

How Many Cards Can You Fit In It?

There is space for three cards to fit, that’s it. No more. However, the case is quite a snag fit so you won’t have any issues using one or to cards in there without them falling out.

There is also obviously no space for money, it’s very minimalist.

What Colour Did You Get

I opted for Baltic Blue, which pairs really well with the Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro I have, and also the Blue silicone case I occasionally use.

How Strong Are The Magnets

The real question we all wanted to know. The short answer is they will be fine. However, the longer one is, probably not as strong as they should be.

When in use I don’t think the wallet will slide off without you knowing about it, but it doesn’t sit nearly as solidly as the iPad Magic Keyboard. Particularly at the bottom it doesn’t take much force to move it around, and when using the phone you can feel it move around some times.

The reality is if you are not paying attention and wearing slim fitting trousers it may come off when you put your phone in your pocket. Using the wallet with a case adds a bit more friction, but I would like to see the address in a future update — I don’t think it is as secure as it should be.

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Can You Charge With It On?

Nope, not at all, no wireless chargers work with the wallet attached. Not only it is probably too thick, but the wallet is shielded so you don’t ruin your cards, so nothing will get through anyway.

About The iPhone 12 Design

[youtu.be/l28UAs30J…](https://youtu.be/l28UAs30Jjk)

As soon as Apple showed off the iPhone 12 new design I was already dubious about how it would feel in the hand. Flat edges are great to look at, but there is a reason that no one uses them for modern smartphones. Put simply your hands are curved.

Sure the design of the iPhone 4/5 is lauded above all others, and the flat sides are part of that excellent design package, but this was at a time when screens and screen-time counts were much smaller. It still is a truly iconic design, but when your screen is 6.1inches and the phone weighs in at 183g it just doesn’t work.

Undoubtedly, some people love the new design. Looking at it from afar it’s easy to see the huge change in design, and how great it looks. However, design has as much to do with function as it does form, and this just doesn’t work in your hand. The edges are uncomfortable, the weight is needlessly excessive, and it hurts my hands to use it.

Perhaps I am spoilt. After using the Pixel 5 and Note 20 ultra, they both feature a great feel it the hand. With the Pixel 5 sporting a similar 6inch screen in a much smaller, more ergonomic package that truly is a wonder to use. Sure it doesn’t feature the same types of materials, but high quality doesn’t mean great design. New users must take this into account when thinking about buying an iPhone 12 Pro especially.

I can understand why the change has been made. The iPad Pro, and new iPad Air, share a similar aesthetic and it’s important to reflect this in your line up. Without changing the design of the iPhone 12, what actually would have been updated from the iPhone 11? Growth at all costs leads to changes for changes sake, and you can claim that the flat design is ”timeless iPhone design” all you like. The fact remains that the iPhones design was curved for much longer than to was ever flat. For good reason.

The once notorious equal chin and forehead bezels with a round home button could be picked out in a crowed market. This iconic design has been replaced with the notched all screen display. Apple did not need to flatten the edges to make the iPhone stand out, it needed to work harder to build value to the design they have.

Perhaps the iPhone 12 mini will feel much better, perhaps it’s a non issue that people will get used to, and no doubt we will see loads of copycat designs now. However, right here, right now there is a reason other phones are not flat because they are designed to use not to look at. When all is said and done, a £1000 should feel better than this.

5 Of My Favorite iOS Apps

A few times a year these kinds of posts start to appear. Around the time of installing new iOS updates, or getting a new phone, users start to think about what’s on their phone, and new people start to look for apps to use. Here are some of my favourite apps that are my first installs on any new phone.

Pocketcasts

I go backwards and forwards on podcast apps, but one that remains my favourite is Pocketcasts. It works brilliantly across platforms, so I can still use it when testing Android devices, but also has a great macOS app and web player.

You’ll have to upgrade to get all the features, but that’s only £9.99 a year and includes a brilliant watchOS app that streams podcasts even better than the stock app. Oh, and it looks awesome too!

Todoist

Another staple of my daily usage is my task manager of choice, sure I have used others briefly, but it’s been on my device for years now. There are other apps that look prettier and perhaps have more in-depth customisation but to put it simply I can’t find any other app that can get your tasks from your brain into a plan quicker and easier. Todoist is also cross-platform and works petty much anywhere which is a huge bonus.

Dark Noise

Now for something completely different, an app that provides most of my background sound. Dark Noise is the app I turn to when working, it not only provides the best ambient sounds around but is also the best designed app I think I have ever seen! The developer Charlie is all kinds of awesome too.

Headspace

When I am not listening to podcasts, or ambient noise I spend at least 20 minutes every day meditating. Headspace is a popular choice for those wanting to work on their mindfulness, and for good reason as its packed full of features. You can get 10 days free to try it out too!

Pocket

Every year, when my subscription comes to an end, I try and find something better to use as a read it later service. Each year I fail. There are cheaper options, there are newer services but I simply can’t find anything better that captures all the text from articles and also surfaces posts about interesting topics. At £35 per year it’s not cheap, but you can use it completely free with a few customisations removed and also a few ads in your article feed.

Honourable mention to 1Password, Hey email, Reeder 5 and Strava. If I have missed something, don’t be shy let me know and recommend me your favourite apps.

Pixel 5 Review

It’s been three years since I used a Pixel device. Not since the first version was I even motivated to pick one up and try it out. They all excelled in specific areas, but always suffered from some frankly jaw-dropping issues or hardware omissions — and when they somewhat sorted it all out with the Pixel 4 they wanted to charge premium prices and not deliver on the premium part.

Something changed with the Pixel 5. Amid a pandemic Google began to focus on what they could do to bring a device together, and perhaps what their customers wanted. So instead of weird and wonderful new developments they absolutely promise to develop, they took half a step back. Creating a device that leans on tried and tested hardware, not the bleeding edge. Just reliable specs, done well and priced at a point that Google felt it can complete.

At £599 in the UK (yay for no mmWave) it is a steal of a smartphone. Googles very own Android version, on hardware chosen to run it at peak optimisations — or at least thats what we are led to believe.



Mid-tear Performance

Despite there being loads of progress in this middle-top section (between £400-£800) the Pixel has an advantage that it is Googles flagship. So, it gets more development attention than many phones at this price point. While some companies cut things out to save costs and also not overshadow their top-tier handsets, Google can put in as much as they can for the price point they want to hit. While augments can be made that the Pixel 5 doesn’t have the bleeding edge of everything like other flagships, when you look at a phone such as the Note 20 Ultra, the Pixel 5 is half the price.

In actual use these supposed cuts are mostly nowhere to be found. The Snapdragon 765G provides more than enough power for every situation. Sure it isn’t as powerful as the 865, but who actually uses the power that these chips possess? I would challenge anyone that uses this phone to find any stutter or lag, or any situations where the thought of having a more powerful processor ever crops up. Even whilst gaming and editing images the phone never misses a beat — I am sure you could find lag somewhere that is caused directly by the processor but I have never seen it.

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Usability

In fact, this ‘cut’ leads to battery life that is truly unbelievable. Let me say that again because it has never happened on a Google phone before — the battery life is insanely good. In fact, I can’t kill it! 8 hours screen on time is achievable, and some of my more leisurely days this week I got almost two days of use. Something helped by Googles option for a more reserved battery life processor, and no doubt software optimisations, squeezed every minute possible out of the 4080mAh battery.

Use it a lot I did because it is such a delight to use. The build quality feel, the ergonomic design and this hardware combination make a hard to resist package. Whilst the screen is a long way off the highest resolution on the market, its 6inch 1080 × 2340 (432 ppi) is one you won’t find major issues with, but it is very dim and the auto-brightness terribly slow.

Some slowdown or issues you may usually find in mid range hardware is smoothed out by the 90hz. Colours are natural and very pleasing to the eye, while text is sharp and the screen is all around absolutely fine to use. As we find with many of the choices made when building the Pixel 5, many words are written about the lack or this and that — but when you actually use it the phone, you realise what really matters.

There is no XL version this year, meaning that the Pixel 5 sits somewhere between the two, and with slim bezels and all metal build. In my opinion, this phone is the best feeling smartphone this year. The design may put some off as boring or utilitarian, but in a world on folding smartphones and weird innovations, Goole have carved out a simple but pleasing ‘candy bar’ smartphone that is both functional and still notably a Pixel.



The Sage colour I have is the only colour you should consider, the black version just doesn’t have the same appeal as the mottled green matte resin Google have covered the back in. This covering over the Aluminium body provides some rigidity to the design, meaning that wireless coils can be covered up, and the device always feel welcoming.

The design only broken by a slightly recessed fingerprint sensor, one that is fast and reliable and secure. It is a little strange to go back to rear mounted sensors after using more modern biometric options, but after a few moments it becomes smooth and natural, and you begin to wonder why things ever changed. Face unlock is fine, but this phone was designed in a pandemic, so you can understand the switch.

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Camera

Since the very first version, Google put all its marketing and development into the Pixel Camera. It took top marks on DxOMarkMobile then, and has ranked very highly since then. The Pixel 5 continues this successful trend of doing more with less, and takes some truly amazing pictures. Its focus on black magic level image processing has led it to be lauded above many much more expensive phones and while it is still an extremely great camera, this year the sensor has really started to show its age.

Google definitely has its reasons, it couldn’t find another sensor to work very well with its processing algorithms, there is no avoiding the fact that newer more modern sensors are frankly much better. The 12MP IMX363 which first appeared on the Pixel 3, and is not far removed from the one on the Pixel 2, is now a long way behind larger higher quality sensors. While Google bridged the gaps with software in days past, the competition now takes as good, if not better shots.

With that said, the Camera is a delight to use — capturing images quickly and easily and achieving photos to be proud of in almost any situation. It punches well above it weight at only £599, and the edition of an ultra-wide lens makes it much more versatile.

The Pixel 5, as with those that have gone before it, excels in low light, and makes a mean portrait, but most of this is post-processing, so what you see in the preview window might not actually what the image turns out as. It also could be different again when you look at the photo on Google Photos later. Frankly that is usually a great thing, if a little baffling at first, and Google makes it easier to edit or revert changes made. Introducing a process of being able to change the angle of the light in portrait shots. Something that I feel only Google would do, and is amazing to play with, but ultimately, one of those features no-one uses.

Software

Which brings us to a larger discussion about Google and Pixel version of Android. It’s a version that crops up nowhere else. A few that get close, but no-one does it as well. The Pixel always stays true to a Google vision of their OS, pushing features to it first, or sometimes exclusively to the Pixel Line.

This is one huge reason why the Pixel doesn’t need the top of the range processor because Android on the Pixel is nearly always fast and smooth. You get updates first, with Android 11 on board a long time before some are every shipping Android 10 to handsets. Google have also promised this for three years from release, so users will always be up to date — but what happens when Android isn’t optimised for this processor is anyone’s guess.

There are loads of software delights that you sometimes stubble on such as the power menu now highlighting compatible smart home gadgets and Google Pay cards. Unfortunately, my version does not feature the Google Assistant On Hold feature as it is US only, but does have live transcribe for any audio just a tap away at any point.

Google want Android to be as useful as possible while collecting data it can use to sell you things and companies adverts. We are all well are of that, and Android on the Pixel is the best possible version of that. You forgive the little quirks and the pestering for maps reviews because the OS is straightforward and a delight to use. Surfacing information, sending you notifications when you need them and being all around a great experience. There is nothing getting in the way on a Pixel, no third-party layers of options, not OEM themes. Just you and Google, and I like that.

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Conclusion

It’s easy to sum up a Pixel device. Good software, great camera and some compromises somewhere — but with the Pixel 5 they have found their hardware mojo. By actually stepping back and building a device for the current circumstances, they have made ultimately a better phone. No gimmicks, nothing new to learn, just tried and tested hardware all wrapped up in hardware that delivers.

I feel like my review is about a thousand words too short, but because we know what we are getting with Googles best the words have already been written. The Pixel 5 does open up a more interesting topic around the demand for keeping up to a specification race no-one needs, but when you pick up the device and use it all of that falls away.

You can point at this spec and that spec, but when you combine these things together in a Google package the Pixel 5 punches well above its weight. Although the camera shows its age, it’s still a delight to use and its software smarts sorts out shooting errors anyway. This is easily the best Pixel ever — and I wouldn’t recommend you buy anything else unless the few ‘cuts’ are things you simply can’t do without.



iPhone 12 Pro Thoughts

After using as many phones as I have over the last 12 months you begin to see things a little differently to just swopping your sim out once a year. While it’s easy to get complacent and just move to the next phone, I simply can’t do that and have to give each phone at least a couple of weeks try whatever my initial feelings are. Some I love and then fall away from quickly like the Galaxy Fold 2, some I love all the way through like the Note 20 Ultra, and some leave me perplexed from the very start.

Unfortunately my beloved iPhone does that to me this year, so I feel compelled to share some initial thoughts on the iPhone 12 Pro — but this is far from a review.

Design

There are no words I can say to sum up this design change that do anything other that tell you how much I hate it! I love the look of the square sides and am all for bringing the design in line with the iPad Pro because that also looks great. However, there is a reason every other thing you hold is as curved as possible, your hand doesn’t like it any other way.

I love the iPhone 5 design, its boxes neatness is one I still keep around in the form of an SE, and sometimes just look at it and appreciate it. Times have changed though, phones no longer feature 4-inch displays and weigh 113g. They contain 6.1” screens and are built of premium materials weighing 182g and frankly it hurts a little.

Granted it is early days, and things sometimes take a little getting used to but I really don’t like it at all. The boxy design looks great but functions terribly to a point where I don’t think I want to use it any longer. I can’t get behind a design that makes the phone feel much thinker than the iPhone 11 Pro, when in fact it isn’t!

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Usability

Outside of this the iPhone 12 Pro retains everything else that is great about an iPhone. Featuring the same matt back that the iPhone 11 had, meaning that going caseless doesn’t mean you need a polishing rag with you at all times — at least not for the back. The Pacific Blue version I have has a polished band around the sides that is one of the hardest things to keep clean I have ever come across! The white iPhones have struggled with this issue much longer, but unfortunately, there is more surface area on the sides now, or they are easier to see, whatever the reason it’s a fingerprint magnet.

Battery life seems to be OK, sitting here on Wi-Fi 90% of the time, but is noticeably worse in current usage. It’s never going to run out on me given my more limited usage, but I am using it much more in this ‘getting to know you’ phase of my testing. Those venturing out and even more so when using 5G may have an issue on their hands, but we will see how this goes. I have noticed it getting hot a few times, so this may just be things settling down and syncing from the cloud still. I can’t see an issue with 6+hours of screen on time though.

Camera

Unfortunately due to being isolated, I haven’t had much chance to really try the camera out other than wandering around my house and snapping a few shots. In good light it is great, as was the iPhone 11 Pro, so this comes as little surprise. Images retain loads of detail, great dynamic range and the new HDR processing is a big leap forward.

In terms of the camera as a whole, this isn’t a huge improvement, but you are hardly going to get this given that last years iPhone 11 Pro is easily the best smartphone camera on the market. Others do well, with the Note 20 a delight to use, but the iPhone just gets it right so often with little work. The biggest improvement is in the fine detail captured, deep fusion works on all cameras this year and you can really see this at work.

The post-processing at work on the iPhone 12 Pro seems to take it easier than ever before. I don’t see nearly as much grain from iOS trying to lighten things up too much, and it keeps shadows much darker. I much prefer the look of the more natural colours in iOS photos, and I am glad to say nothing changes in this years phone — no weird skin smoothing either.

It is impossible for me to say for sure at this stage, but portrait shots seem much easier to shoot than ever before, no doubt helped by the LIDAR sensor. Night mode portraits are great unless there is too much backlight, but only work with the wide sense and not the usual 2x.

Conclusion

I am conflicted. I have bought the new iPhone every year since the iPhone 6 and used them all the way through. Not because better phones don’t exist, but because iPhone suits me much better than anything else. I am not a ‘power user’ which is a euphemism for use your phone far too much, so I do not need top of the line everything. For the last few months I have been using an iPhone SE as my ‘home’ phone and it is one of the best phones I have ever bought.

Undoubtably the iPhone 12 Pro is much better than anything else available, but I just don’t enjoy using it. The camera is indeed great, but it was great last year too. I am so disappointed by the feel of the phone in my hand that I am considering returning it pretty much straight away. The only thing stopping me is my desire to give the phone real usage, and my thoughts may change…perhaps.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review

When I sit down and think about doing a review, I want to answer the questions I would have about using a device. I think about the unique things that make this phone worth while, and the things I need answering in order to buy one. When it comes to the Galaxy Note line of handsets it is becoming harder and harder to differentiate them past a stylus – but there’s actually a lot to look at in my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

I realise that I am doing these two phones in the wrong order. Before the Galaxy Z Fold 2 came the Note 20 Ultra. But given how different the Fold is to use, arguably the better device sat in the side lines and waited its turn. I always give these phone a good use, I’m not one of these people the spends a day with a second sim in a phone and moves on, I’ve been using the Note 20 Ultra as my only phone for a few weeks now and I have to say I’m impressed.

The new Note 20 line up, although confusing, is one of the most interesting advances in this line for quite a while. This line topping Ultra model packs all the top of the line specs you’d expect and also expands on new technology first seen in the Galaxy S20 Ultra. This phone has been taken to a point where it is almost perfect on paper in every way, and although paper doesn’t always tell the tale of a smartphone, the premium nature of the Note 20 Ultra is apparent straight away.

Topping the scales at a mere 208 grams, it is surprisingly light for a device sporting a 6.9inch screen. Although it doesn’t feel light in any way, it is only 50g heavier than an iPhone SE that is a small portion of the size. Every inch of the phone feels premium and well made, with the matte backed Mystic Bronze version I have only adding to the appeal of such a premium smartphone experience. Its boxy, thin, glass and metal design carries on the same signature features as the phones before it but takes a step up in quality and finish.

Note 20 Ultra

Camera

Unfortunately we can’t go much further into talking about handling the phone without talking about that huge camera bump. It is ridiculous whichever way you look at it, a design choice that should be inexcusable. Not being afraid of the camera bump is one thing, but not designing it into the back of your phone is another. It makes the device slightly top heavy when holding, wobble when on a table, and also affects some stand up wireless chargers – so be fair warned the design choice does affect more than it looking a bit ugly.

With all that said I would live with the monstrous bump to get the camera it has inside it. The three camera set up is a delight to use, and gets some amazing results. I have never been the biggest fan of Samsung cameras, but this time I am blown away by the improvements. It might be the new 108mp main camera, it could be the assisted laser focus that removes much of the focus hunting plaguing the S20 Ultra. Or it could be Samsung’s improved processing of images. All of these things combine to make a camera that for once is a genuine competitor to iPhone shooters.

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Not because phones before it got bad results, but because you no longer have to work for it. I have very little need to go into pro mode unless I want a specific look from my images, I can confidently point and shoot and get great results almost all of the time. Unless you play about with the setting the main camera takes snaps with the 108mp camera and then uses “nona-binning, pixel binning by a factor of nine” meaning your images retain loads of detail but don’t take up a huge amount of room on you phone. Making them much easier to share with people and social media.

You can opt to take images at the full resolution with a few taps, but there are very few reasons to do so. The main sensor is flanked by two 12mp sensors, one f2.2 ultra wide and one f3.0 telephoto. Each one giving the excellent results we expect from Samsung cameras, I particularly enjoy shooting with the ultra wide due to its 120 degree field of view.

Sure there are some instances in low light that grain creeps in, and sometimes it has a tendency to over expose, but 99/100 you are going to get a shot you are happy with. One word of warning though, the zoom can be a little fiddly and sometimes takes a few moments to realise which lens it should be using. In fact in anything other than good light, a zoomed photo will be using a cropped in version taken on the main camera lens and not the telephoto at all – but you will get great results regardless.

With regards the the 50x zoom, it’s usable but wont come in handy very often, whereas the 10x and even in some situations the 20x still gives out nice results and keeps plenty of detail in the shot.

Screen

As with every large screened phone, the in-camera experience allows for many more controls to be packed onto the screen, and still leave a large view finder. The 6.9″ edge Quad HD+ Dynamic screen is capable of 3088×1440 (496ppi) and 120hz refresh rate — but not at the same time.

This is frustrating to say the least, however I opted for the higher refresh rate of the two choices and suffer no ill effects. The screen is still pin sharp at FHD, vibrant and colour rich to make images and text really stand out.

Can we spare a moment to talk about these curved screens that Samsung keep insisting on producing. I am not sure they have ever been a good idea, and although the software does an ok job of rejecting unintended touches, it makes the phone much harder to grip onto. I simply have to use a case when using the Note 20 Ultra outside for fear of dropping it. Leading it to invariably shatter into a million pieces given its almost entirely glass construction.

The factory applied screen protector is frankly garbage. It has already started to gather dust around the top of my screen, and retains prints like it’s trying to collect them all. It should be one of the first things you replace if you don’t want to be polishing your phone all the time. Thankfully the Mystic Bronze version at least fends them off on the back, but if you opt for Mystic Black version it can get very annoying very quickly.

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It is finished in Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass Victus, so should stand up to most things, but remove the screen protector at your own risk.

Finger Print Sensor

A criticism of the finger print sensors speed and accuracy posed by most reviews thankfully has been unproven in most cases. Although after a couple of weeks of use it is for some reason much slower, requiring me to record my prints again to improve results. The under screen sensor is a little strange to get used to, I am never quite sure where to place my finger on the screen, and I would much prefer one on the back with a tactile place to highlight where to put it. With that said it is light years easier than putting in on the side of the phone, and I combine this with face unlock to mean that the device is usually unlocked before I realise it.

Thankfully the Note 20 Ultra doesn’t blow past the lock screen once authenticated like phones of old, making interacting with the device much easier and very rarely needing to see the home screen if receiving a notification.

Battery Life

This is not something I usually have to call out specifically in a modern phone review. Usually a few passing remarks are enough to pitch this in the realms of all day battery life. However this version of the Note 20 I have, the UK Exynos version, is frankly rubbish.

In the first few days of usage I struggled to get 4 hours screen on time. Opting to leave everything as is out of the box and opting for 120hz refresh rate, and reaching for the charger a long time before I should be doing. When really digging into the setting and putting apps to sleep when you don’t need them etc 4 hours is achievable, but I frankly refuse to have to start turning off location, Bluetooth etc just to get good battery life.

Samsungs insistence to use their own processors in phones is inhibiting the experience for users, and when the Snapdragon version can see more than 90minute more SOT than this version it is frankly unacceptable. The experience of your device shouldn’t be limited by where you live, and I hope this is addressed very quickly. Galaxy Notes are usually known for their battery life, but this falls well short of the mark currently — bordering on completely unacceptable.

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I have watched countless hours of videos claiming to have a set up that will improve my battery life, I have contacted Samsung who refuse to admit there is an issue. The fact remains the battery life is shockingly bad given the 4500 mAh capacity. Supporting fast charging of 25w and wireless of 15w is no replacement for battery life optimisations done in production.

Software

I can almost copy and paste my experience with Samsung from any other phone I have used from them in the last couple of years. The Note 20 Ultra features Android 10 and has Samsungs One UI 2.5 on top of this to add in additional features. I might be looked at a bit funny for saying this, but I really like ONEUI now it has matured a little. Of all the skins Samsung have done the best job in redefining what Android feels like, but also retain its charm and underlying features.

The tie with Microsoft again runs very deep with OneUI, and features almost every Google service matched, by not only a Samsung version, but also now a Microsoft version. A promised update later in the year with further attempt to solidify that partnership with task and note syncing between the two companies. Something that those tied into Office 365 will look at very seriously.

Unfortunately, for Samsung, some things still fall short and get frustrating in parts. The Software is still bloated with advert and notifications to use new features. You’re never quite sure if to update the app in Samsung Store or Google Play, and weirdness continues throughout the OS. The most frustrating of all is syncing a Microsoft 365 calendar to the stock Samsung app just gets you stuck in an endless loop. You must install the Samsung email to enable sync, yet are encouraged to use Outlook.

I am almost at the stage where I wish Samsung would just ditch Android and produce their own OS. They are stuck in this three-way pull between themselves, Google and Microsoft, leaving the end user slightly confused at what to use. Yet outside of this almost expected weirdness the OS is light, fast, and a pleasure to use.

Muti-tasking

One of the biggest improvements made to the new devices is the ability to multitask more easily. Much like the Galaxy Fold 2, you can create app pairing stored in the side bar for easy opening of your most used pairings. Although only limited to top and bottom split, using the phone in landscape does allow for quite a lot of information to be displayed thanks to that big screen, so comes in more useful than you might think.

Of course option exist for floating windows, pinned notes on the screen and all manor of options to get things done. What this really shows is the sheer ability of both the OS and the underlying hardware to multitask with minimal effort. You can have 2 or 3 pretty intensive apps open at a time and never see the Note 20 Ultra miss a beat.

I would love to see drag and drop implemented into more apps, and Samsung work more closely with the Office team to allow for dragging over documents into email for example. I get the feeling this may be coming in future version, as Microsoft are already onboard with integrating services and also allowing for S Pen usage in more apps.

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S Pen

It could be said that this is one of the major selling points of owning a Note series phone. When in practice I am never sure how many people use it sparingly and only for very few functions. Most long term users talk about never taking it out after the first month, so usefulness is clearly subjective.

How many people are writing notes on their screen, colouring in or annotating Pdf document remains to be seen. I do do all of those things, but my most used interaction with the S Pen is to allow another interaction element to exist.

Not only does the S Pen allow for much more accurate interaction with apps — Samsung have reduced latency from 45ms down to 9ms — it also allows for different options when in use. I can scrub through video with my finger but trim the start and end points with the S Pen. I can draw on an image while selecting elements with my finger, and any number of app interactions. I am already well onboard with a stylus as a separate interaction element, but the Note 20 proves to me that Samsung got this dead right by sticking with the included S Pen.

The real beauty is, if you don’t want to use it, you never have to pop it out of the bottom of the device ever again. I mean who actually uses it to take photos or wave it around like some kind of magic spell to go backwards on a web page.



Conclusion

I have used every version of the note line to date, bar the exploding one and the weird one that never launched in the UK. Some are great, some mediocre. The Note 20 Ultra hits every mark you want it to, bar battery life, it is a premium smartphone that feels like it’s worth very penny of the £1200 you pay for it. Those that use it will feel like they are using the best phone on the market, it seemingly does everything, has a huge gorgeous screen and packs a top of the line camera.

It’s hard to find downsides to the Galaxy Note Ultra — but then I shouldn’t be able to for this price. No words seem to quite get anywhere to summing it up other than, it’s great. When all phones are now the size of the Note line it’s hard to find a major differentiator other than an S Pen. If Samsung phones are your thing, you are getting a more refined version of the S20 in the Note 20 — one you wont be disappointed with.