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

Xiaomi Mi 11 Launches in Europe



Xiaomi might be a recent addition to the USA’s naughty list but this hasn’t stopped the Chinese firm from launching its latest flagship, the Mi 11 5G with an impressive set of specs. The TL;DR version is Snapdragon 888 chipset, 6.8″ screen with 515 ppi, 8GB+128GB/256GB, starting at 749 euros.

The longer version is that Xiaomi has a top-tier phone with specs to take on the best, but it took 25 minutes of global launch presentation to get to the technical details, with the event’s focus on video recording and photography features. Aimed at social media aficionados, this is a lifestyle as much as a flagship device.

(And while Xiaomi were trying to move the conversation away from features, there were plenty of comparisons between the Mi 11 and Apple’s iPhones.)

The Mi 11 is a good-looking smartphone, covered in Corning Gorilla Glass front and back, with curved edges on all sides. The display side has the latest Victus glass giving enhanced drop protection. Two colours were announced at launch, Midnight Gray and Horizon Blue, but more were promised including a future Cloud White model.

The display on the Mi 11 is a 6.8″ WQHD+ display with 3200×1440 pixels giving 515ppi. It’s a 120 Hz AMOLED HDR10+ screen with AdaptiveSync to adjust screen frequency up or down depending on the app’s requirements. Lower frequencies use less power. DisplayMate have awarded the Mi 11’s screen the best smartphone display award along with 13 other accolades.

Under the bonnet is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G. The main octacore CPU is a 5 nm Cortex X-1 supported by new A78 cores and an Adreno 660 GPU, giving an Antutu score of 745,942 and top spot on the leaderboard.

Powering the Mi 11 is a 4,600 mAh battery with high power 55W charging. Using a USB C cable, the phone will go from 0% to 100% in 45 minutes. Wireless charging isn’t much slower, taking 53 minutes to fill the battery. A 55W GaN charger will come in the box.

Camera-wise, the Mi 11 comes with 108 MP primary camera with OIS, a 13 MP 123° ultrawide and a 5 MP telemacro lens. Round the front, it’s a 20 MP in-display camera. Xiaomi have worked hard on low light level photography with Night Mode available on all three rear cameras and Ultra Night Video for filming. Videos can be recorded at 4K HDR10+ and there are six AI cinema modes to give films a certain style. Xiaomi has partnered with cinematographer Reynald Gresset to show off the Mi 11’s features and the showreel is impressive.

The phone’s speakers have been tuned by Harmon Kardon and there’s support for two Bluetooth headphones or a pair of speakers. Size-wise, the Mi 11 is 164.3mm x 74.6mm x 8.06mm and weighs in at 196g.

Up to this point, the Mi 11 has shown itself to be a competent flagship contender albeit with nothing particularly special. Interestingly though, the Mi 11 can use the in-display fingerprint monitor as heart-rate sensor.

Out of the box, the Mi 11 will come with MIUI 12 with a major update to 12.5 in Q2. Xiaomi have been listening to users and MIUI 12.5 will allow the user to uninstall pre-installed apps.

Let’s talk pricing….the Mi 11 will be sold in Europe in two versions, one with 128 GB for storage and the other with 256 GB. The main memory is 8 GB in both versions (though a 12 GB version appears to be available in China.)

  • 8GB+128GB – 749 €
  • 8GB+256GB – 799 €

Exact releases dates for different countries will be announced shortly.

The Mi 11 comes with 2 year warranty plus a 1 year one-time free screen repair, which is a nice touch, and for true fans, a Mi 11 Special Edition will be released later in the year in very limited numbers. Looking forward to seeing that.


Pantone Colors of the Year 2021 – Illuminating and Ultimate Gray



For 2021 Pantone has announced two Colors of the Year, Illuminating and Ultimate Gray. Officially Pantone 13-0647 and 17-5104, Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colors of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, explains “The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one. The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit.

As with last year’s Classic Blue, Pantone has worked with other partners to transform Illuminating and Ultimate Gray into more than just colours. Brazilian footwear manufacturer Cariuma offers a range of sneakers in Pantone colours including this year’s Colors of the Year. At the other end of the body, Love Your Melon, has a selection of woolly hats in Illuminating and Ultimate Gray. For fashion accessories, Lokai have bead bracelets incorporating the two colours – yellow on one side, gray on the other.

The Pantone Color of the Year reflects what is taking place in our global culture, expressing what people are looking for that color can hope to answer.” added Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute. “As society continues to recognize color as a critical form of communication, and a way to symbolize thoughts and ideas, many designers and brands are embracing the language of color to engage and connect.

The full press release is here and discusses Illuminating and Ultimate Gray in the context of everything from tech innovation to interior design and fashion.

If you are a designer, all the colour standards are on Pantone’s site, including some downloads for Adobe products. The codes for Illuminating are sRGB: 245, 223, 77 and Hex: #F5DF4D.

For Ultimate Gray, the codes are sRGB: 147, 149, 151 and Hex: #939597

Personally, I see the colours reflecting the transition from despair to hope in 2021 as the world fights back against Covid-19. We need to see more Illuminating that Ultimate Gray.


Google Really Doesn’t Care About Android Tablets



Android Green Robot LogoI’ve used Android tablets for nearly ten years, starting with the Motorola Xoom way back in 2011. I then adopted the Google Nexus series with the Nexus 10, 7 and 9 tablets over a couple of years. After those, I jumped ship to a Huawei M5 10″ before getting a previously-enjoyed Samsung Tab S6, which is a very capable piece of kit.

At times, I feel like I’m the last Android tablet user left. I do like Apple hardware, but I don’t like Apple’s walled garden, the holier-than-thou attitude and I find iOS / iPadOS is too rigid and inflexible for my liking. All too often I try to do something on my daughter’s iPad that would straightforward on my Tab S6 but turns out to be impossible. Go on, change the default app for opening a jpg.

I know that Google’s not been giving tablets much love since ChromeOS became the new poster child and ChromeOS-based tablets started to appear. Of course, ChromeOS runs Android apps but the problem with Chrome devices is the spec. ChromeOS doesn’t need much CPU and RAM to run fast, but that doesn’t mean the screen has to be cheap too. Almost without fail, Chromebooks come with screen resolutions more suited to a 6″ smartphone than a 12″ laptop.

For example, the Chrome device-of-the-year Lenovo Duet has a 10″ 1920 x 1200 display. Or take the Acer Spin with a 13″ 2256 x 1504 screen. Even the HP Elite X2 only has 1920 x 1280 on a 13″ display. And that’s a convertible that costs GB£1700. Are they crazy?

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is 2560 x 1600 in a 10.5″ screen. I love reading on mine and magazines presented in Zinio look great.

Google’s abandonment of Android tablets came home to me today when I tried to use the YouTube, sorry, the YT Studio app in landscape mode on the S6….and you simply can’t. YT Studio stubbornly refuses to even rotate away from portrait orientation, never mind present a more suitable landscape layout.

Frankly it’s embarrassing that Google can’t even be bothered to make its own apps tablet friendly and it’s no wonder that the best tablet apps are on iPads. Apple didn’t so much win the battle of the tablets as Google failed to turn up.


POCO Launches M3 Smartphone with More Than You Expect



Spun out from Xiaomi, POCO Global today launched the POCO M3, the third generation of its POCO M-series phones. Aimed at the entry-level, the M3 has features that would have been unheard of at this price point even a year ago. The moniker for the presentation was “More Than You Expect” and I’m pleasantly surprised at what “entry-level” offers now – fast processor, large detailed screen, big battery, decent camera. For those new to POCO, their range goes M, X, F with F being the flagship models and X the mid-range units, and over 6 million phones have been sold.

Starting with the outside, the POCO M3 has a large 6.53″ Gorilla Glass 3 display on the front, and on the rear there’s an anti-fingerprint textured back for a secure grip. POCO isn’t hiding anything here with two brightly coloured finishes in POCO Yellow and Cool Blue, though there is an understated Power Black option. At this price point, a glass back isn’t realistic but for the target audience of young entertainment-on-the-move enthusiasts this isn’t a bad thing – it’s grippy and there’s no need to worry about smashing the back glass. The triple-camera array (with flash) is arranged in a wide POCO-branded camera bump (more on this later), and physically the smartphone is 162 x 77 x 9.6 mm and weighs in at 198 g. There’s a power button with a fingerprint sensor on the side.

Returning to the front, the display is FHD+ meaning 2340 x 1080 pixels, 395 ppi and a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. The screen to bezel ratio is 90.3% so the screen fills the phone, as it were. Inside the M3 is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 662, a 4G processor launched in 2020 which outperforms the Snapdragon 665 by 10%. The 662 comprises a Kryo 470 octa-core CPU running at up to 2.0 GHz and an Adreno 610 GPU. The POCO M3 will be available in two variants, 4GB+64GB and 6GB+128GB, and if that’s not enough storage, the phone can take a microSD card up to 512 GB – that’s quite a few films. There’s a dual 4G SIM tray too.

To keep the M3 powered up, the phone comes with a large 6,000 mAh battery which is expected to give 5 days of battery life for light use and 1.5 days under heavy use. Or to put it another way, that’s 196 hours of music or 17 hours of streaming video. The phone supports 18 W fast charging and wired reverse charging via USB C. It comes with a 22.5 W charger in the box.

Round the back, the POCO M3 comes with a triple camera configuration in a thin but unnecessarily wide camera bump. This design isn’t an accident and is intended to stop the M3 wobbling when lying on a table or desk. Returning to the cameras, the main lens is a 48 MP unit paired with a 2 MP depth sensor along with a 2 MP macro unit. On the front, it’s an 8 MP teardrop selfie cam. The M3 comes with some clever filters and effects including night mode, portrait mode, “movie frame”, time-lapse and color-focus, which removes the colour from the photograph except for the focal point of the picture.

Fan favourites, the M3 includes an IR blaster and retains the 3.5 mm earphone jack, along with dual speakers. Out of the box, the phone will be running the MIUI12 flavour of Android 10.

What about the price, or the value, as Xiaomi suggests? Impressively, even the 128 GB version comes in well under US$200. The two models are priced very competitively at

  • 4 GB + 64 GB is US$149
  • 6 GB + 128 GB is US$169

The POCO M3 will be available this week from 27th November. What day is that? Oh, yes, it’s Black Friday. As a special BF deal, there’s US$20 off both models at Amazon, Mi.com, AliExpress and Lazada but check local T&Cs.

The launch event is available on YouTube below. Skip through to about 29 minutes in.


Fix Rubbish TV Sound with the Roku Streambar



The new Streambar is the latest addition to Roku‘s range of media streamers in the UK. Unlike the other devices in the range, Express, Premiere and Streaming Stick+, which simply stream channels and programmes to the TV, the Streambar looks to address the problem of poor sound from flatscreen TVs by combining a Roku streamer with a compact soundbar. Is this the best of both worlds or a Jack of all trades? Let’s take a look…and a listen.

While the transition from bulky CRTs to LCD flat screens led to 4K and HDR, it didn’t help audio presentation at all. Thinness and narrow bezels aren’t friends to speakers and sound quality suffered. While A/V setups have been popular, they’re typically expensive and require wires all around the room to speakers in the corners. As an alternative, soundbars have become popular in the last few years, providing significant audio improvement without all the cables.

The Roku Streambar isn’t as long as some of the soundbars on the market, measuring around 35.6 cm wide, 6.1 cm high and 10.7 cm deep, and at this size, it fits neatly in front or below the TV. Inside the Streambar are four 1.9″ speakers, two facing forwards and two to the left and the right, providing much-improved audio. There’s a discreet LED just above the Roku logo that’s white in use and red when in standby.

Round the back of the Streambar, there are connections for power, digital audio (S/PDIF), HDMI and a USB port, along with a reset button. If the Streambar needs to be wall-mounted, there are a pair of screw sockets.

The Streambar follows Roku’s long tradition of including everything in the box: there’s no need to nip out for batteries at the last minute. Inside there’s the Streambar, voice IR remote control with AAA batteries, HDMI cable, digital optical cable, power supply (with both UK and European plugs).

Continuing in tradition, the Streambar follows the usual pattern of Roku setup with a couple of tweaks to accommodate the audio requirements. Simplistically, the Roku needs connected to the wifi (11ac – there’s no ethernet) and you need to sign up or sign in.

The main difference between an ordinary Roku media streamer and the Streambar is the sound and the clever trick here is that the Streambar can play audio from any device connected to the TV, whether Freeview, SkyQ or a Bluray player. The Streambar takes advantage of HDMI ARC – Audio Return Channel – which carries the sound signal to the device. It’s available on most new-ish TVs and it’s usually HDMI 1.

If there’s no HDMI ARC, the alternative is to use digital audio and that’s what I had to do with my TV. I have an HD Samsung TV that’s well over ten years old and there’s no HDMI ARC, so it was a digital connection for me. The Roku setup process runs through these different options and shows the necessary steps. It really only takes a few minutes to get the setup done.

Once configured, the Streambar is very much the Roku we all know and love, supporting 4K and HDR. The Roku uses the idea of channels which are kind of like apps, and all the usual UK suspects are available: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4, My5. In addition, there’s all the subscription channels you can afford: Netflix, Prime Video, NowTV, Apple TV, Disney+, BritBox, Spotify. For your country’s regional variations, check www.roku.com/channelchecker to see what’s available.

Existing Roku users will have all their channels auto-loaded during the Streambar setup and new users can quickly add their favourites by browsing categories or searching for particular apps/channels.

I’m not going to review the Roku user interface in detail as it’s well covered elsewhere (check out my Roku reviews on YouTube) other than to say that the Roku is my favourite media streamer. The UI is simple, straightforward and isn’t trying to sell something all the time (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire Stick). It seems like I’m not the only one either: over the past five years, Roku’s been the market leader in streaming media players, holding about a third of the market in the US.

There are a few customisations for the Streambar which don’t appear in the other Roku models and as you’d expect, they’re to do with sound. For starters, and most obviously given the tile on the screen, there’s a special Bluetooth app for connecting other devices to the Streambar in order to take advantage of the better speaker.

In addition, there are settings to adjust the audio including the bass, volume and, one of my personal favourites, speech clarity, which makes a reasonable attempt to promote speech over effects.

Prior to installation, my biggest concern about the Streambar was that I was going to have to use multiple remotes to control the volume – that’s the problem I currently have with my Yamaha AV amp. Fortunately, this was completely unfounded and even though my Samsung TV is over ten years old, the TV and Streambar played well together, outputting all sound to the Streambar, regardless of whether the sound signal came from Sky, Freeview or the Bluray player. Any remote could be used to control the volume.

One problem that my wife did encounter was that sometimes the Roku Streambar would go to sleep and wouldn’t rise from its slumber when the TV was turned back on. Using the Roku remote volume buttons normally solved the problem and woke it up but I later discovered that changing the Power setting to Fast Start resolved the issue as well.

As this is a soundbar, let’s focus on the Streambar’s audio qualities. Technically, it supports Dolby Audio but is the sound better than the TV’s? Yes, by a long way. It’s much richer, fuller and deeper with good clarity. TV soundtracks sound much better and more natural, and the effects in films become more emphatic and engaging. I also found it noticeable playing video games on my Nintendo Switch, and there’s a particular jingle on BBC’s Newsround which sounds terrible on my kitchen TV which is totally transformed by the Roku Streambar. Even better, it’s actually possible to listen to Spotify through the Streambar without cringing.

As the Roku Streambar is only 35 cm wide, the stereo separation is fairly limited, but apart from that the Roku Streambar performs well for the money. For sure, it doesn’t sound as impressive as a Dolby 5.1 Surround system, but then the Streambar costs a quarter of the price and doesn’t need cables everywhere. Regardless it’s still a significant improvement over a standard TV.

Before wrapping up the review, an honourable mention needs to go to the inclusion of a USB port on the Streambar. Plug in a memory stick or external hard drive and local media can be played directly, which is great for those with collections of ripped DVDs or home videos. This is the only model in the UK range to offer this, though all models can play from NAS units. And let’s not forget the complementary Roku app which will show smartphone photos and videos on the TV screen.

Having used the Roku for a couple of weeks, I think it’s a worthy upgrade for a not-very-smart flatscreen TV such as my ancient Samsung. You get a top-end Roku media streamer along with a soundbar, just as it says on the box. The RRP of the Roku Streambar is GB£129.99 but there’s currently a Black Friday offer on bringing the price down to £99.99 (offer ends 16/12/20). At either price, it’s a good deal. Available from all good stores.

There’s more in the video below.

The Roku Streambar was provided for review by Roku.


OnePlus Rounds Out Range with Nord N10 and N100 smartphones



As promised at the launch of the 8T earlier in the month, OnePlus has announced two new Nord smartphones, the N10 5G and the N100. These join the existing Nord in the smartphone line-up but unlike the original Nord (the N1?), the N10 and N100 will be coming to North America. Let’s take a quick look at specs and pricing but it’s perhaps more interesting to review OnePlus’ overall line up and the impact of that.

N10 5G

The N10 5G is unsurprisingly a 5G phone with a Snapdragon 690 octa-core CPU backed up by 6 GB RAM and 128 GB of storage. In a first for OnePlus, the N10 will take a microSD card up to 512 GB. The screen is a 90 Hz 6.49″ 1080 x 2400 (FHD+) display giving 405 ppi. Quad cameras round the back – 64 MP main lens, 8 MP ultra wide, 2 MP macro lens and 2 MP monochrome lens. 16 MP selfie camera on the front. And all this is powered by a 4300 mAh battery with support for Warp Charge 30T. It’s priced at GB£329 and will be available later in November.

Below the N10 in the range is the N100 though both phones are physically very similar. The N100 is not a 5G phone but it’s still powered by Qualcomm, only this time it’s a Snapdragon 460 octa-core CPU supported by 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of storage. Like the N10, the N100 will take a microSD card but only up to 256 GB. The screen is a 6.52″ 720 x 1600 (HD+) display giving 269 ppi. Triple cameras round the back – 13 MP main lens, 2 MP macro lens and 2 MP bokeh portrait lens. 8 MP selfie camera on the front. And all this is powered by a 5000 mAh battery with support for 18W fast charge. It’s priced at GB£179 and will arrive on 10 November.

N100

So OnePlus is very much filling out the product range in areas that are definitely not flagship killers. Let’s look at the prices (all GB£) across the portfolio for phones that are (or will be) available to buy.

  • N100 – £179
  • N10 – £329
  • Nord – £379
  • 7T – £469
  • 8 – £549 / £599
  • 8T – £549 / £649
  • 8 Pro – £799 / £899

Looking at this, OnePlus has now got a phone for you whatever your budget (and I think the base price of the 8 is likely to drop by £50 soon). That’s quite a turnaround in six months from when arguably there were only two phones in the range – 8 and 8 Pro. I know that’s not strictly true with older models being on sale too, but it seems to me that there’s now a conscious effort to have phones at every price point. Let’s not forget that the 7T is only a year old and Apple has a similar strategy for its previous generation models too.

OnePlus still meet their value criteria as all of these look pretty well-specced for the price point, though some commentators reckon the Nord and the 8T are the best value devices given the specs. Personally, my smartphone budget is usually sub £500 and my last two mobile phone purchases were both “previously enjoyed” models, saving even more money. But that’s not the point here: OnePlus now have a full portfolio of products from £179 to £899 offering value-for-money smartphones whatever you have to spend.


DOOGEE S96 Pro Sees in the Dark with IR Night Vision



DOOGEE claim to be the “world-leading rugged phone brand” and their flagship phones have the capabilities – dustproof, waterproof, shockproof – with the certifications to back it up – IP68, IP69K, MIL-STD-810G. Today, DOOGEE add another string to their bow with the introduction of night vision in the new S96 Pro smartphone. Yes, night vision.

As part of a rear quad camera array, the S96 Pro has a 20 MP night vision camera using a Sony IMX350 sensor chip with an 80° field of view. The IMX350 is an ultra-low-light sensor but for those really dark nights, the camera is supported by four infrared night vision lights and four LED lights providing both invisible and visible light. Regrettably, DOOGEE haven’t provided any sample photographs but the S96 should be able to provide some amazing images at night.

For the rest of the quad array, the S96 Pro sports a main 48 MP sensor, an 8 MP wide-angle sensor with 130° field of view and 2 MP macro camera. Don’t worry, selfie lovers aren’t left out with with a waterdrop 16 MP front-facing camera. The screen is a 6.22’’ HD+ waterdrop screen made from Corning Gorilla Glass with a 1520×720 resolution giving 270 ppi.

In terms of the CPU, it’s a MediaTek Helio G90 octa-core processor chipset running at 2 GHz, backed up by 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of UFS storage. It should be pretty nippy with plenty of space for apps and media. This is all powered by a whopping 6350 mAh battery, which is possibly the largest battery I’ve seen in smartphone in some time. DOOGEE reckon on two to three days between charging in normal use, but if it needs topped up, this can be done wirelessly or via 24 W USB C fast charge.

Maintaining DOOGEE’s rugged standards, the S96 is waterproof and dustproof to IP68 and IP69K. The depth rating isn’t just for accidental immersion in a puddle or sewer as DOOGEE offer an underwater camera-mode for photography up to 5 m deep in short dips. For prolonged underwater, it’s 30 mins at 1.5 m.

There’s no 5G here but frankly, there is unlikely to be 5G in the back end of nowhere. The S96 Pro does have 2G, 3G and 4G all well covered along with 11acbgn wifi and support for all four satellite positioning systems (GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo).

Pricewise, the S96 Pro is US$299.99 or GB£237 and is available now from AliExpress. International delivery and customs duties can be avoided by waiting until December when the phone will be stocked by Amazon.

The S96 Pro is the definition of a tool smartphone. Rugged, waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, night vision, huge battery. This the phone to buy when any other phone would fail and you need it to work, no questions asked.