All posts by Andrew

About Andrew

Based in the UK - Phone: OnePlus 6T - Tablet: Huawei Mediapd M5 - Watch: Omega Seamaster

Google Shutters Play Music for YouTube Music. Really?



In a YouTube blog posting, Google has confirmed that it’s the end of the road for Play Music and YouTube Music is the new place to be. Starting in September for the Antipodes and October for the rest of the world, Play Music will stop streaming, though I assume the Play Music app will still play local content. Albums and tracks can be transferred from Play to YouTube from now through December, but come 1st January 2021, Play Music will be gone.

When I heard that Google was closing the doors on Google Play Music in favour of YouTube Music, I wasn’t terribly bothered. I do have a few purchases at Play Music but I’m a subscriber at Spotify and that’s my main source of tunes, so the personal impact is minimal. I’ll get my tracks downloaded to my home NAS and all will be well. I’ve no intention of signing up for YouTube Music.

However, I did wonder about the choice of the YouTube brand for the music service. Undoubtedly, YouTube is a popular and well-known brand but it’s not what I’d associate with quality or trustworthiness. The platform has a healthy selection of clickbait, misinformation and ripped-off content. Yes, there’s some great content on YouTube, but the problem is finding the wheat amongst the chaff. I don’t expect YouTube to be the BBC, but to now suggest that YouTube Music is a purveyor of high-quality legal music is quite a pivot for the brand.

For the purposes of research, I tried out the “YT Music” app on my phone and it’s nothing special. To be honest, I was bit annoyed, because being Google and YouTube, the app tried to pull in my supposed preferences from historical YouTube searches and also tried to make suggestions based on the idea that I was at home and bedtime. I’d really like it, if for once, Google took its nose out of my business. It’s going beyond helpfulness to intrusion.

Sorry Google, but I’m downloading my music and then I’m out of your music service, whatever the brand.


DOOGEE Launches N20 Pro Android Smartphone



While in grave danger of being eclipsed by another smartphone announcement, DOOGEE have launched the N20 Pro smartphone, an entry-level Android 10 handset from a company usually associated with rugged waterproof devices that could do serious damage if thrown across the room. In this instance, the N20 Pro is a much more traditional design which is unlikely to generate a second glance.

For those unfamiliar with DOOGEE, the company is a Spanish-Chinese enterprise founded in 2013. The company claims to be the “world leading rugged phone brand” and their flagship tough phone carries IP68, IP69K and MIL-STD-810G certification. That’s hardcore.

Regrettably the N20 Pro is more likely to see the inside of mall than a rain-soaked jungle. There’s a 6.3″ IPS FHD+ display (1080 x 2280 pixels) of glass powered by a 2GHz Helio P60 octa-core processor. Inside, it’s 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM,128GB of storage and support for up to 512GB of additional storage with a microSD card, which isn’t bad at all.

There’s dual SIM support, though the second SIM slot is also home to the microSD card, so it’s one or the other.

Round the back, there’s a quad camera array: 16 MP main camera, 8 MP 130° ultra-wide camera lens, 2 MP portrait camera and 2 MP macro camera. On the front, there’s a tear-drop 16 MP selfie camera. Keeping the contents of the phone safe, the N20 Pro has a rear fingerprint sensor, with face unlock available for those too lazy to lift a finger.

The N20 Pro is powered by a non-removable 4,400 mAh lithium-polymer battery with 10W fast charging, and comes in a choice of three colours – Streamer Purple, Fantasy Forest and Space Gray. The N20’s dimensions are 159 mm x 77.1 mm x 8.8 mm, and weighs in at 175 g.

Let’s not pretend these specs are anything like those of a flagship phone, but when the retail price is US$199 compared with $1000, it’s not surprising. And if you are interested in the N20 Pro, there’s a launch sale coming up on 10th & 11th August when the price will drop to $119.99, with a further $10 off using code N20PRO10.

I’ve never actually tried one of DOOGEE’s phones but hopefully I’ll be able to get one in for review soon.

[Update: a previous version of this post incorrectly gave the retail price as US$169]


OnePlus Launches Nord 5G Smartphone



In a pandemic-driven AR showcase, the new Nord smartphone arrived and returned OnePlus to the mid-range market with a phone sporting 5G, 90 Hz screen, 128 GB storage, dual selfie cameras and a very competitive price of GB£379. Let’s take a look and see what’s on offer for half the price of the 8 Pro.

As expected, the Nord is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G 5G chipset, driving a 6.44″ 90 Hz Fluid AMOLED screen with 2400×1080 pixels giving 408ppi. That’s going to look pretty sweet and there’s no curve on the edge of the screen – I’m already a fan.

The cameras are always of interest and the Nord has one big trick up its sleeve. Starting round the back, the phone features the same 48 MP Sony IMX586 sensor as the flagship OnePlus 8, complete with a large f/1.75 aperture for bright images, and optical image stabilization (OIS) to reduce blur and shake. In addition, Nord comes with an 8 MP ultra-wide angle camera, a macro camera and a depth sensor.

However, it’s round the front where the surprise is. The Nord is the first OnePlus device to come with a dual front camera setup for super selfies. Featuring a 32 MP main camera, the highest resolution front camera on any OnePlus phone, the OnePlus Nord is going to get some great selfies. The main front camera also supports high-quality video capture at 4K up to 60 fps. The second 8 MP ultra-wide angle front camera offers a 105-degree field of view for fantastic group shots. With an ultra-wide angle on both the front and the back of the camera, a whole new way of taking photographs is going to open up to Nord owners.

The Nord is 158 x 73 x 8 mm and weighs in at 184 g, which makes it a 2 mm shorter but 4 g heavier than the standard OnePlus 8. The new phone brings plenty of design cues over from the older siblings and shares technology too. The Nord comes with  Warp Charge 30T, which will take its 4115 mAh battery from empty to 70% in only half an hour. As with the 8 and 8 Pro, Nord learns your life patterns to reduce the amount of time the battery spends at 100% on charge to enhance battery health.

To brighten up the Nord, OnePlus are offering some funky cases to protect your investment, including one that has (pretend) X-ray vision, showing off the internals of the phone.

The OnePlus Nord is an important milestone for OnePlus, as we always look for new ways to share the best technology with more people around the world. We are excited to finally bring a more accessible OnePlus smartphone that confidently stands alongside other products in the OnePlus family,” said Pete Lau, Founder and CEO of OnePlus. “The OnePlus Nord combines a flagship camera along with our signature features such as the 90 Hz Fluid Display, OxygenOS, and Warp Charge 30T to deliver a best-in-class smartphone experience.”

Pricewise, the Nord will be available with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage for £379 / €399 or with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for £469 / €499. The Nord will be dressed in two colours; blue marble and onyx gray, and there’s no messing around with colours and RAM sizes.

General availability from 4th August in the UK and rest of Europe but if you can’t wait, there are pop-up stores online and John Lewis on 31st July. Disappointment for cousins across the pond who will be restricted to a limited launch in the US of A.

Regrettably I wasn’t able to get hands-on with the OnePlus Nord, but it still looks like an exciting phone. The OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro are fantastic phones but even I balk at spending the best part of £1000 on a phone. While I might stretch to the 8 on a generous day, this very much looks like a phone I’d consider buying.

As for the much heralded AR launch, it was a complete fail for me. The OnePlus Nord AR app would recognise a surface but no amount of tapping made the stage appear. Unimpressed and uninstalled.


OnePlus Nord Launches Tomorrow



A reminder that there’s a launch event tomorrow (Tuesday) by OnePlus, with full reveals of both the mid-range Nord smartphone and new wireless headphones, Buds.

As ever, there has been a ton of leaks around the devices, some intentional, some less so. Many of the details have been disclosed already, such as the use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G chipset, which means 5G, and that the Nord will include four cameras, two of which are for selfies. Of course, the big unknown is the price which is heavily hinted to be under US$500 for the Nord.

Regarding the Buds, it’s looking like there will be three colour options; black, white and a light blue with lime highlights. A total listening time of 30 hours is expected, but that includes three recharges in the battery case. From the leaks, Dolby Atmos could be on the cards too, which would be impressive at a price point of rumoured to be under US$100, based on the CEO teasing a price of $XX.XX for the Buds on Instagram. There’s more on the design of the Bugs over at the OnePlus forums.

As the world is still paralysed by Covid-19, OnePlus are going with an online AR (augmented reality) event to debut the new gadgets. If you want to watch the event at 10am EST / 1500 BST / 1600 CEST, there are two options.

  • Option 1: Livestream on OnePlus website at https://www.oneplus.com/global/nord/AR.
  • Option 2: Using the OnePlus Nord AR App available forAndroid or iOS. Install the app, then launch the app and follow instructions to setup your avatar and the app. You might need to accept a few permissions. Close to the launch time, launch the AR app and start the immersive AR experience.

Make sure you have a good internet connection to have a consistent streaming experience.

If you missed out on the Nord  pre-orders, OnePlus have confirmed that they will be continuing the tradition of pop-up stores, albeit again through a virtual on-line pop-up store.


Xiaomi Shows Off New Product Line Up



In a keynote online presentation today, Xiaomi showed off its upcoming new Mi products in a range of categories from smart bands to scooters. The company is 10 years old in 2020 and is ranked 24th in Boston Consulting Group’s 50 most innovative companies, with its smartphones ranked in the top 5 in over 40 companies. Xiaomi has built a large ecosystem of consumer electronics, wearables, TVs, scooters, smart home devices and smartphones.

Here are the new devices announced.

Mi Smart Band 5

Xaoimi’s fitness trackers have been previously well received (over 100 million sold) and I think we can expect the same for the Mi Smart Band 6. Available from tomorrow priced at only GB£39.99, the Mi Band 5 will come in six fun colours, including a bang on trend camo green (which is described as mint green in the presser – best to check). The Mi Band has a 1.1″ AMOLED display (126×294 px), Bluetooth 5.0 BLE and is water-resistant to 5 ATM or 50 metres for swimming and snorkeling.

In terms of activities, the Band 5 supports eleven exercise types, with five new ones including yoga, skipping rope and elliptical trainer. The heart rate tracking has been improved by up to 50%, there’s better sleep monitoring and brand new stress detection. Female owners can track menstrual cycles with helpful reminders.

There’s up to 14 days of battery life and is charged via a magnetic coupling. You can also use the Mi Band as a remote shutter for your smartphone camera.

Available from tomorrow (16 July) priced at €39.99 from mi.com/uk. UK pricing will be confirmed then.

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 Basic

The Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 Basic provide 5 hours of listening time per charge with the charging case able to deliver three further charges. Charge time is about 90 minutes and the case is charged via USB C. Hurrah!

With Bluetooth 5.0 BLE and a range of 10 m, the Mi Earphones offer all the usual features including dual mic environmental noise cancellation, auto pause when removing an earphone and support for the SBC/AAC codec. The Earphones work with both Android and iOS. Availability is from 16 July for an extremely reasonable GB£49.99 from mi.com/uk.

Mi Electric Scooter 1S and 2 Pro

With rental electric scooters now legal in much of the UK, there’s hope that personal scooters will be usable soon too.

Xiaomi announced two new electric scooters, the 1S and 2 Pro for the UK. Powered by a 300W motor, the Pro 2 can reach speeds of 25 km/h with a range of 45 km depending on terrain, taking in slopes of up to 20%. Weighing just over 14 kg, it can be folded up in less than three seconds. The Pro 2 comes with lights, reflectors and disc brakes. The Pro 2 is priced from €499.

The 1S is a slightly less powerful model (250W) which still reaches 25 km/h. Range is reduced to 30 km and can only tackle 14% gradients hills, but the benefit is less weight at 12.5 kg. The 1S will cost €399.

UK availability and pricing to be confirmed.

Mi TV Stick

The Mi TV Stick is an AndroidTV 1080p media streaming with Chromecast built-in and a Bluetooth remote control. Prices will start from €39.99.

Mi Curved Gaming Monitor

It’s a whopping 34″ curved gaming monitor with a 21:9 WQHD display supporting a 144 Hz refresh rate. That’s big…Pricing starts at €399.

Redmi 9 Smartphones

Xiaomi updated its entry-level phone series, Redmi, with the 9, 9C and 9A. Some of these have been available in other countries but they’re now officially coming to Europe.

  • Redmi 9 – 6.53″ display with Helio G80 chipset, 5020 mAh battery, quad rear camera and NFC. 3GB+32GB version is €149. 4GB+64GB is €169.
  • Redmi 9C – 6.53″ display with Helio G35 chipset, 5000 mAh battery, triple rear camera. 2GB+32GB is €119, 3GB+64GB is €139.
  • Redmi 9A – 6.53″ display with Helio G25 chipset, 5000 mAh battery, 13 MP rear camera. 2GB+32GB is €99.

Overall, that’s a pretty impressive selection of products coming from Xiaomi in the next few months.


OnePlus Nord to be Revealed in AR on 21st July



After some heavy hints and with limited pre-sales underway, OnePlus has confirmed that the new Nord smartphone will be revealed on 21st July in an AR (augmented reality) extravaganza. GNC readers with long memories will remember that the OnePlus Two was launched in VR – I still have the headset – so with Covid-19 still present in many countries around the world, it made sense to launch the Nord online and in the safety of their own homes.

OnePlus Nord represents a new beginning for OnePlus, giving us an opportunity to share our technology with more people around the world,” said Paul Yu, Head of OnePlus Nord. “For this launch, we want everyone to sit back, relax, and experience our new phone for the first time right in the comfort of their living room. We feel that introducing Nord in a more personal and intimate way perfectly reflects our ambition to make the OnePlus experience more accessible to users.

The OnePlus Nord AR launch can be experienced through the OnePlus Nord AR App available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. The launch event will take place at 1600 CEST/ 1500 BST.

Download the OnePlus Nord AR app from your preferred app provider.

Install the app and accept the permissions necessary for the AR experience, then launch and follow instructions to set up your avatar and the app.

On the day, watch the Nord AR event using the AR App. Just open it up at launch time and make sure you’ve got a good fast connection.

For more details on the Nord and the second episode in the “New Beginnings” series, check out OnePlus’ dedicated Nord mini-site.

And while we’re talking OnePlus news, the OnePlus 8 Pro was voted the Best Smartphone 2020 in the European Hardware Awards. Way to go.


Amazon Has An Oversupply Problem



During lockdown, I’ve been doing my very best to support local businesses and shop locally. However, sometimes the thing you want is simply too specialist to be carried by any emporium within a reasonable distance so inevitably I’ve fired up the browser and hopped on over to see what’s available at world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.

And it hasn’t always been a great experience. Too much of the market seems to be given over to sellers with company names full of consonants selling identikit products at similar prices. And there’s no way that the reviews are authentic: some of the products have hundreds of reviews but I very much doubt that they’ve sold that many items.

Take these ring LEDs…there are fifty three pages of sponsored products alone – that’s 367 items. Yes, there are variations based on ring size, accessories and so on but it’s obvious that many of the products are the same unit.

Some product categories are worse than others, but I’m quite sure everyone has seen this problem, whether with electronics, cookware or home furnishings. You can understand why companies are so keen on getting good reviews to bump their rankings to the first few pages.

In contrast, traditional bricks’n’mortar stores have a much more limited product range selected by the owners or a buying team who decide the best fit for the people coming into the shop. In this example, you could imagine a selection based on ring size but you’re probably choosing from three or four products at most. Not 367.

Brands are very relevant in these crowded markets too. I can’t be bothered to root through every single example and often rely on a brand name to help make the selection. Over the years, I’ve gathered my own selection of favourite go-to brands for preferred products and I’ll choose those over no-name clones every time.

Amazon does label goods as “Amazon’s Choice” as if this is the best product, whatever best might might be. My understanding is that these are only curated by algorithm and there’s no one behind the scenes checking, reviewing or testing.

There are consumer organisations like the UK’s Which? which provides advice and guidance on products in different categories. It’s a subscription service at just under GB£10 per month but perhaps worth considering if you are buying big ticket items. As an independent organisation it’s trusted and respected.

A tempting solution would be for Amazon to provide a similar service to Which? for its Prime members where real people test a range of products in a category and recommend the best. But would anyone trust Amazon’s recommendations? I’m not sure I would given some of the recent revelations about Amazon Basics.

There’s no doubt that Amazon has profited during the pandemic, but I’m seriously beginning to wonder if Amazon is allowing too many vendors with too many similar products. I know that I’m increasingly looking to other stores and branded products rather than going straight to Amazon. This week I’ve one delivery from Amazon but two from other online stores.

What about you?