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Based in the UK - Phone: OnePlus 8 Pro - Tablet: Samsung Tab S6 - Watch: Omega Seamaster

Roku Express 4K Inbound to UK



Streaming specialists Roku have added the Roku Express 4K to their UK line-up of devices bringing HDR10+ to UK range for the first time. Priced at £39.99, the Express 4K sits between the HD Express and the Premiere which already offers 4K and comes in the same “fig roll” shape as the original Express.

The Express 4K comes with dual-band WiFi (11ac) to deliver the extra bandwidth needed for 4K but to the delight of people who can’t get a strong enough wireless signal to deliver 4K, the Express 4K can be networked via the microUSB port on the rear, though the necessary gadget will be an optional extra.

Black Roku Unit plus Remote Control

We are dedicated to providing users the simplest way to stream entertainment to their TV at an affordable price,” said Mark Ely, Vice President, Retail Product Strategy at Roku. “The new Roku Express 4K offers tremendous value as 4K streaming has become a benchmark in technology and entertainment. We believe consumers are going to be impressed with the quality they can get from Roku at this price point.

Everything needed to get started comes in the box – Express 4K itself, remote with batteries, power supply, HDMI and USB power cables. It’s a simple remote which uses infrared, so the Express 4K has to have line-of-sight to the remote meaning the Express 4K isn’t suitable for hidden mounting round the back of the TV. If you need an out-of-sight Roku, look at the Streaming Stick+.

In a quick round-up of the tech features, the Express 4K everything up to 4K HDR TVs is supported (HD, 4K, HDR, HDR10, HDR10+). It will deliver 2160p at 60fps (3840 x 2160) and can upscale SD and HD programming. Audio-wise there’s DTS Digital Sound. The Express 4K works with all the major voice assistants: Amazon Alexa, Hey Google and Apple HomeKit. Apple’s AirPlay 2 is supported as well.

For the UK, the Express 4K is expected to arrive in May at all the usual retailers for GB£39.99. If, like me, you are wondering where that leaves the similarly priced Premiere, I suspect it isn’t long for this world.

The Express 4K wasn’t the only announcement from Roku. The company announced RokuOS 10 with four significant improvements.

  • Apple AirPlay 2 & HomeKit will come to all 4K and most recent HD Roku streamers and Roku TVs.
  • Automatic Wi-Fi Network Detection will pick the best wireless connection during the first setup and will proactively suggest alternative wireless networks with better bandwidth.
  • RokuTVs will automatically detect connect game consoles and adjust TV display settings to optimise the screen performance.
  • HDR10+ Support. Currently only available on the Express 4K, HDR 10+ enables dynamic metadata that continuously enhances display settings, so users see the most vivid and brilliant colours throughout the HDR10+ programme streaming.

It’s good to see the Roku getting an update to keep it current. It’s definitely my preferred media streamer as it’s largely ecosystem agnostic, offering all the terrestrial broadcasters catch up services, plus the likes of Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video and YouTube. Regrettably, Google Play Movies is being merged with the user-generated content on YouTube but that’s Google just being stupid.


Pre-Orders Open for OnePlus Watch



OnePlus’ partnership with Hasselblad has produced two very well-received devices in the shape of the 9 and 9 Pro smartphones. I’ve been using the OnePlus 9 for a couple of weeks now and it’s a lovely phone that takes great pictures…but we’re not here to talk about the phones but rather the new OnePlus Watch.

A Black Smart WatchThe OnePlus Watch is the company’s first global foray into wearables (ignoring the OnePlus Band which was only available in India) and pre-orders open on Wednesday 14th April for the two new smartwatches. Priced at GB£149/US$159/€159, it’s competitive against similar smartwatches from Fitbit, Samsung and Huawei. Deliveries are expected at the end of the month and the Watch goes on general sale on 30th April.

Two models are expected to up for pre-order, Moonlight Silver and Midnight Black, with the announced Cobalt Limited Edition coming later. With a 46 mm case, it might be a minimalist design but it’s a big watch that’s not going to be missed on anyone’s wrist. The Watch supports over 110 activities including swimming which is possible due to the IP68 water resistance rating. There’s built-in GPS so no need to carry your phone on a run.

The round display is a 1.39″ AMOLED display at 326 ppi and is protected by a sapphire glass crystal which provides good protection against scratches. Handily, the Watch takes standard watch straps so it’s easy to switch them out for something more personal.

Battery life is rated at over 2 weeks (yep, two weeks) and even the most active athlete will get over a week. The Watch uses Warp Charging and about 40 minutes will get it charged up from flat.

I’m looking forward to buying one for myself: I really need to lose a few pounds after lockdown but I think I’m going to wait for the Cobalt LE.

Pre-orders open Wednesday at OnePlus.com and Amazon.co.uk for £149.


Google Dumps Play Movies to YouTube for Smart TVs



Google Play Movies LogoGoogle has announced that it’s discontinuing support for Play Movies on smart TVs and will make purchases available on the TV’s YouTube app instead.

In a small posting on its support forum, Google said that from mid-June the Google Play Movies & TV app will no longer be available on Roku, Samsung, LG, and Vizio smart TVs. Previously purchased films will be available in the YouTube app under “Your Movies”.

I’m not happy. Up to this point, Play Movies was my video store of choice: I don’t have a huge collection but before Disney+ came along, it was where I bought my Marvel films and cartoons, sorry, animated features. The really good thing was that Play Movies was available across smartphone, tablet, smart TV and web. It also had a simple user interface with curated content – children could not access inappropriate material.

And now we have YouTube. Clearly Google has learned nothing from the bloatware that is iTunes or the mess that Spotify is rapidly becoming, and is trying to throw all media into YouTube so that it can further sell adverts and tracking. The home of user-generated content has already gobbled up Play Music and unless I’m very much mistaken, it looks like the writing is on the wall for Play Movies too. The parental controls on YouTube are next to useless and going by the comments on the support forum, I’m not alone in my displeasure.

Everything doesn’t have to be a social media experience. I just want to watch my films: I’m not going like, favourite or subscribe something I’ve already purchased.

And Google, just in case no-one’s mentioned it, I don’t think anyone associates YouTube with quality programming.


The Email Double Standard



Every day, emails come in from favourite stores extolling their latest offers or newest stock, but try to contact the shop’s customer services by email and it’s a different matter.

I’m a fan of Bulldog‘s male grooming products and recently went to replenish the bathroom cabinet but was unable to get hold of one particular product. I visited four stores familiar to the British High Street – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Boots and Superdrug –  and for those who don’t live in the UK, the first two are supermarkets and the others are health and beauty retailers. All the stores stocked Bulldog’s line and just this one thing was missing.

It’s always an annoyance when a favourite product is withdrawn and a replacement needs to be found, so I thought that I’d email the stores and the manufacturer to find out why there was a stock shortage before trying out alternatives. Easy-peasy, I thought. One email with five bcc’s would do the job…

After having a rummage on their respective websites, I discovered that email is not always their preferred method of contact. Not so easy-peasy after all. Of the five I wanted to email, only one, Boots, actually offers an email address. Here are the main customer service contact points.

  • Bulldog Skincare – single form on website
  • Sainsbury’s – selection from topic areas on website that ends in offering phone, Facebook, Twitter or BSL (British Sign Language)
  • Tesco – click-through several pages to get to form on website.
  • Boots – boots.customercare_team@boots.co.uk, plus phone and web form.
  • Superdrug – online chat, Facebook and Twitter

Well done Boots and kudos to Sainsbury’s for offering BSL upfront to customers, but I’m really disappointed as to how few offer email as a method of communication with customer services. To be fair to the shops, when and where I contacted their customer services, they did respond promptly and with relevant information, so I can’t complain too much.  However, there does seem to be a double standard here: the stores seem very happy to spam us with promotional email but if we need to contact them in return, it’s not so easy.


E3 Goes Online for 2021



E3 2021 LogoIt’s “Game On” for this year’s E3 Expo with the flagship gaming event taking place completely online in 2021 from 12-15 June. This is great news for gamers and gaming fans who will be to see what’s coming soon to their consoles and PCs from some of the biggest names in the industry. Early indications are that Nintendo, Xbox, Capcom, Konami, Ubisoft, Take-Two Interactive, Warner Bros. Games and Koch Media will be showing off their latest wares with more to come.

Usually, E3 takes place in June at the Los Angeles Convention Center and until only a few years ago was a trade-only event. Last year’s show was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic and this year will be an all-digital event. This is great for enthusiasts across the world who wouldn’t be able to travel to the West Coast under normal conditions, never mind during the pandemic: they’ll get a front-row seat to the latest releases in the industry.

For more than two decades, E3 has been the premier venue to showcase the best that the video game industry has to offer, while uniting the world through games,” said Stanley Pierre-Louis, President & CEO of the ESA. “We are evolving this year’s E3 into a more inclusive event, but will still look to excite the fans with major reveals and insider opportunities that make this event the indispensable center stage for video games.

For E3 2021, there will be live press conferences and a four-day video stream. An E3 app is mentioned as well which would be a very slick way to bundle the event into a single point of presence. Other elements of the website are still a work-in-progress and fan registration is expected to open in “Spring 2021”. Keep an eye on the registration page here but all the indications are that this will be a free event.

Now I’m wondering if Nintendo will use E3 to drop the widely-expected revised Switch…


OnePlus Lights Up London with a Moonbow



OnePlus‘ partnership with Hasselblad and the recent launch of the OnePlus 9 series of smartphones have been greeted with almost universal acclaim. To celebrate this and the open sale of the 9 Pro, OnePlus’ latest crazy publicity stunt has been to generate a “moonbow” in London and capture it with the OnePlus 9 Pro.

What’s a moonbow? Officially, it’s much like a rainbow but with moonlight rather than sunlight creating the bow. In this case, OnePlus have cheated a little and put the rainbow round the moon by generating a cloud of mist and a high-powered light. Regardless, it’s still pretty impressive.

Naturally occurring moonbows are very rare, mainly because the light from the moon isn’t anywhere near as bright as sunlight, so it’s extremely hard for the human eye to spot the spectral colours in the dark. OnePlus helped out to make it a bit easier to spot – “Using high-powered light projections beamed through a wall of mist set under the perfect light conditions of the full moon, OnePlus created London’s very own first-ever man-made Moonbow in front of Tower Bridge, shot on the OnePlus 9 Series. The man-made Moonbow took 12 hours of on-site build time, used 60 tonnes of environmentally friendly recirculated water an hour and was created by a high power 20,000-lumen light projector.”

Of course, the moonbow had to be captured using a OnePlus 9 Series camera, co-developed with Hasselblad. Their emphasis is on natural colour calibration and while I wasn’t actually there to take the photo, it seems pretty realistic and I’d be happy with the photo if I’d just taken it on my smartphone.

At the moment, OnePlus is running a series of photo competitions based on a number of weekly themes – True Attitude, True Love, True Freedom and True You. Each week Hasselblad photographer Julius Hirtzberger will choose a winner from photos tagged with #TrueColors on Instagram. The winning photographers will receive a OnePlus 9 Series handset and other goodies. Visit @oneplusunitedkingdom for more details.


OnePlus 9 Series Officially Launches with Hasselblad Camera for Mobile



In news that will surprise no-one, OnePlus has officially launched the OnePlus 9 series of smartphones. As expected there are two models for global distribution, the 9 and 9 Pro, plus a new product, the OnePlus Watch. In the end, there was no mention of the 9R which is expected to be an India-only release.

As much of the launch had been pre-leaked by the CEO, there weren’t really any surprises apart from some gaming finger triggers that sneaked into the tail-end of the presentation. Most of the presentation was about confirming, re-iterating, emphasising or extending what was already known. Reading that last sentence suggests the phones aren’t anything special but on the contrary, the 9 and 9 Pro are significant evolutions of the OnePlus portfolio.

OnePlus’ new partnership with Hasselblad is the most important change for the OnePlus 9 series, bringing Hasselblad’s years of experience to develop Hasselbald’s Camera for Mobile. OnePlus has always been good technically – the OnePlus 8 Pro uses the Sony IMX689 which was specially produced with sister company Oppo and Sony – but has perhaps lacked that extra know-how to take their smartphone cameras from good to great. If you are wondering who Hasselblad are and why they’re special, let’s just say that when NASA wants a camera to go into space or perhaps even go to the moon, they call Hasselblad.

This is a multi-year partnership involving millions of dollars and the deal is for Hasselblad to take OnePlus to the top of the game. The first part will be to get the best from the existing technology, as exemplified in the OnePlus 9 series. The next step will be to design hardware together to get that perfect synchronicity between hardware and software. Hasselblad’s approach is one “Natural Colour Calibration” so the goal is for the image taken by the camera to match the real-world. There’s no artificial enhancement to make colours pop out – the image sees what you see, not what would look best on the ‘Gram.

In terms of the smartphone cameras, there’s a quad-camera array on the back of the 9 Pro plus a selfie camera on the front. The main rear camera is a 48 MP Sony IMX789 sensor with a large 1/1.4″ sensor and OIS. The ultra-wide 50 MP uses a 1/1.56″ IMX766 sensor with a custom lens that corrects curvature at the edge of an image.. An 8 MP telephoto and a monochrome 2 MP unit fill out the rest of the rear camera selection. On the other side, the front-facing camera is a 16 MP Sony IMX471.

For the 9, it’s a triple-camera array with a 48 MP IMX689 for the main camera (same as the 8 Pro from last year) but shares the 9 Pro’s IMX766 for the ultra-wide. The third lens is a 2 MP monochrome unit for black-and-white fun. As with 9 Pro, the selfie cam is the same 16 MP Sony sensor. In many respects, the difference between the 9 and 9 Pro’s imaging is much smaller now than it has been in the past. Note the Hasselblad branding.

The camera app on the phones has been enhanced in a couple of ways to emphasise the relationship with Hasselblad. At a gimmick-level, the shutter button is now orange and the shutter noise is that of a Hasselblad camera. More practically, the camera app now has a Pro mode that gives the photographer much greater control over the photograph.

OnePlus’ burdenless design comes to both phones and if in nothing else, it’s reflected the colouring of the camera array to match the back. It’s a small touch but really looks good. In the hand, the OnePlus 9 feels great. The only edge I could notice was that of the screen protector.

While the camera’s the “big deal” in this iteration of OnPlus phones, there have been other improvements almost across the board. Both phones come with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G CPU, which in my testing gave a Geekbench score of around 1100 for the OnePlus 9, compared with around 900 on the 8. At face value that’s a significant power boost. The CPU is backed up with LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 memory for storage. Each phone comes with two variants, 8 GB & 128 GB, and 12 GB & 256 GB. Obviously, there’s 5G (3rd gen) connectivity but there’s also Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2 and NFC wireless.

Powering the 9 series are 4,500 mAh batteries which give enough for a day’s worth of serious use. Both phones use Warp Charge 65T that will charge the battery from flat to full in only 29 minutes. Yes, 29 minutes. Both the 9 and 9 Pro have wireless charging now and the Pro has Wireless Warp Charge 50 that will transfer 50 W of power wirelessly and charge from flat in only 43 minutes. For the 9, it conforms to the 15 W Qi wireless charging standard. Not so fast but very welcome. And yes, there’s a mains charger in the box, but if you want the Wireless Warp Charger it will set you back GB£69.95

For the display, the OnePlus 9 uses the same screen as found in the 8T, so it’s a 6.55″ AMOLED display, 2400 x 1080 pixels giving 402 ppi. It’s broadly a flat screen, so while the front curves gently into the side of the phone, it’s not a curved display itself. The display’s refresh rate is switchable between 60 Hz and 120 Hz which is buttery smooth but at the cost of battery life. Previously the display had been rated A+ by the folks at DisplayMate when it was assessed in the 8T.

However, the OnePlus 9 takes the display technology to a new level, using LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) which allows controls of the refresh rate from 1 Hz to 120 Hz. Simplistically the 9 Pro can adjust the display rate to suit the task. Reading a document, reduce the refresh rate down; playing a game, whack it up. Very clever stuff – OnePlus call this FluidDisplay 2.0. In terms of the numbers, it’s a 6.7″ AMOLED with LTPO display, 3216 x 1440 pixels giving an incredible 525 ppi. This screen is curved at the sides, and OnePlus reassures that lessons have been learned and improvements made to avoid ghost touches and colour bleeding.

Each phone comes in three colours – the 9 Pro comes in Morning Mist, Pine Green and Stellar Black, and the 9 has Winter Mist, Arctic Sky and Astral Black. The two “Mist” colours are a fade that goes from shiny to matte. In terms of size, the 9 Pro is 163 x 74 x 9 mm and weighs in at 197g. The 9 is 160 x 74 x 9 mm and tips the scales at 192g. Not much in it at all.

In one of the few things that hadn’t been leaked, OnePlus announced gaming finger triggers as “coming soon” but there wasn’t much detail – see pic on the left.

Let’s talk pricing….

OnePlus 9 
8 GB + 128 GB: US$729 / GB£629 / 699€
12 GB + 256 GB: GB£729 / 799€

OnePlus 9 Pro
8 GB + 128 GB: GB£829 / 899€
12 GB + 256 GB: US$1069 / GB£929 / 999€

Looking back to last year’s prices, there’s been a small bump of about £30 across the range. Pre-orders will open immediately with general availability from 31st March for 9 Pro, followed by the 9 on 26th April.

Not content with only announcing smartphones, OnePlus launched the long-awaited OnePlus Watch. With a 46 mm case, it might be a minimalist design but it’s a big watch that’s not going to be missed on anyone’s wrist. Coming as standard in Moonlight Silver and Midnight Black, there will also be a Cobalt Limited Edition. The Watch supports over 110 activities including a Parkour mode, though I think I’ll stick to swimming which is possible due to the IP68 water resistance rating. There’s built-in GPS so no need to carry your phone on a run.

The round display is a 1.39″ AMOLED display at 326 ppi and is protected by a sapphire glass crystal which is pretty hard. In a cool move, the Watch takes standard watch straps so it’s to switch them out for something more personal.

In addition to pairing and working with a smartphone, the OnePlus Watch acts as remote control for the OnePlus TV, and with about 2 GB of memory, there’s plenty of space for music. Battery life is rated at over 2 weeks (yep, two weeks) and even the most active athlete will get over a week. The Watch uses Warp Charging and about 40 minutes will get it charged up from flat.

The classic edition of the OnePlus watch will be priced at US$159 / GB£149 / 159€. Availability will be announced soon along with pricing for the Cobalt LE.