Category Archives: review

Paramount+ Arrives in UK on Roku



Months after launching in USA (and the subsequent Star Trek Discovery PR disaster), Paramount+ finally arrived in UK today. Priced at £6.99 per month, the crown jewels are undoubtedly the Star Trek catalogue, but with ComedyCentral, ShowTime and MTV, there’s over 8000 hours of premium content including classics like Cheers! and Frasier. The new Halo live action series debuts on the service bringing another dimension to Microsoft’s long-running game series. It really is a golden era for television.

If you want to watch Paramount+, there are apps available from the app stores for Apple and Android devices as you’d expect. For the big screen, it’s bundled with Sky’s Cinema subscription but if you’re not a subscriber, a media streamer like a Roku is likely your best bet for now. The Paramount+ channel can be loaded from the Roku store and it’s then just a case of logging in with your credentials. I’m assuming Paramount+ will come to smart TVs and consoles soon but it’s not yet showing up on my LG TV or Playstation.

If you don’t have a Roku and want one, I’d recommend the Express 4K model which offers HDR and 4K output (if supported by the programming). It’s easy to use and is way less confusing that the Fire TV. Crucially, the Roku comes with a remote control so there’s no need to find your mobile phone to get going. Priced at GB£39.99, there are sometimes discounts for special events like Father’s Day so keep an eye out for those.

If you want to know more about the Roku Express 4K, check out my fairly comprehensive review below.

 


FIFINE Microphone T669 Mic Kit Review



The FIFINE T669 Microphone kit is a budget USB Microphone with everything you need to get started with an adjustable scissor arm, shock mount, desk clamp, and alternative desk stand. It even includes a windscreen. I was honestly pretty shocked that it contains everything you need to get started at $50. My Mac instantly detected the microphone and easily connected to my audio recording software.

I was pretty surprised by the build quality of the microphone stainless steel, and the microphone grid is wire mesh. The gain control is on the front of the mic, and I never had to have the gain over 50%, and the noise floor was remarkably low. I was shocked at how good the audio sounded at the price point of this kit. I have tested several USB microphones, and often the difference is in the diaphragm of the capsule; at 16mm, it matches other USB microphones that are twice as expensive.

This microphone is a great entry point microphone with all the hardware you need to record a podcast and stream online. Typically microphones do not come with a boom mic, and mount the boom I started with years ago was $100 plus. Because of this, the coolness factor is significantly higher in that while the mic has a small profile, you can put it close to your mouth while keeping your hands free to do other things. Table stands that come with most microphones end up never being used, but the boom mic and mount are perfect for those that may be live streaming.

Pick up the Mic and Kit today on Amazon.
10% discount code for Amazon FIFINE store: 10MICROPHONE
End date: 06/02/2022 11:59 PM PST


OnePlus Nord CE 2 Hands On Review



OnePlus LogoThe OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G updates last summer’s original “Core Edition” to keep up with the mid-range, or as OnePlus would like us to believe, “A little more than you’d expect.” As with the original, it takes the best of the Nord series, distils it down and sells it at a great price, so expect a focus on “fast charging, powerful cameras, smooth display, good battery and a headphone jack.” Round two…ding,ding. Who’s the champ?

The Nord CE 2 arrives in the same black cardboard box with Nord branding picked out in reflective navy blue. No changes here and maintains the contrast between Nord black box and the red boxes reserved for the higher-end models. Opening the box reveals the CE 2 5G phone itself, along with a semi-transparent bumper case, a SIM tray tool, a few small manuals, the now rebranded SuperVOOC charger and a USB charging cable. We’ll come back to SuperVOOC later but as a green bonus, I think all the packaging is some kind of card so should be recyclable.

Unwrapping the Nord CE 2, it’s clear that this is not quite the same phone as last time and steps a little away from the expected OnePlus design. This phone is smooth, really smooth. There’s even a smooth chamfer up to the camera array. Why is this? Well, if you haven’t read any of the comments from other commentators, it’s because this isn’t a OnePlus designed phone – it’s really an Oppo Reno 7 with a few tweaks. Does it matter? Probably not – it’s still (as we’re going to see) a great value phone. But I can look at OnePlus 9 and a Nord 2 to see clearly that they’re from the same stable. Sometimes I think it would be really nice if phone companies designed the phone and stuck with it for a year or two, just upgrading the internals. You could use the same case as last time…

Moving on, it’s a polycarbonate back and in Gray Mirror: I think you can see why it’s “mirror” (the other colour is Bahama Blue). The CE 2 feels sturdy enough but I think it would be prudent to pop it in a case to avoid tears. Other than the total smoothness, there’s nothing to write home about – flat Gorilla Glass front, pinhole camera top left, power button on right, USB C on the bottom and triple camera array, though you can hardly see the third lens. As with the original, no alert slider and the 3.5 mm headphone jack remains. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the retention of the jack is a good move at this price point. Size-wise, the Nord CE 2 is thin too, at only 7.8 mm thick. The other dimensions are 161 mm x 73 mm, weighing in at 173 g, so it’s pretty much the same size as last time (but it won’t fit in the same case).

One other change that’s of note: the SIM card tray has been improved and now takes two SIMs and a microSD card (up to 1 TB). That’s definitely new to the CE phones and I’m fairly sure that it’s new to OnePlus phones. On the back of being able to add storage, there’s only going to be one variant in each territory and for most, it will be 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage. (There will also be a 6 GB version for some areas.)

Turning on the CE 5G begins to show off the lovely 90 Hz Fluid AMOLED 6.43″ display (2400 x 1080 pixels, 410 ppi). It looks good, it’s fast and it has the controls of its more expensive siblings – screen calibration, refresh rate, vision comfort, reading mode. I do like the dynamic wallpapers that OnePlus offers though I’m not sure there are any new ones this time round, just an expanded range of static ones (I could be wrong). Anyway, that’s diverting from the point that this is a fantastic screen.

In terms of sound, the audio through the jack is good. For speakers, there’s only the one at the bottom next to the USB C port, which is the same as last time. Also as last time, it’s fairly loud but distorts over about two-thirds volume and there’s limited bass. What did you expect from 7.8 mm?

Now we come to one of the major changes. Moving away from Qualcomm, a MediaTek Dimensity 900 octacore 9 nm CPU paired with an ARM Mali-G68 GPU powers the Nord CE 2. I’m told the 900 should deliver a 20% CPU performance improvement over the Snapdragon while increasing battery life by 20%. Is this true? I used GeekBench 5 to look at the Nord CE, CE 2 and Nord 2.

Phone Single-Core Multi-Core
Nord CE 630 1807
Nord CE 2 726 2152
Nord 2 807 2677

Ok, so it’s not quite a 20% uplift but in use the Nord CE 2 is snappy. Frankly, no one really cares what’s inside as long as it does the job. Pokemon Go runs great and despite a warning that the phone isn’t officially supported, Fortnite is playable (a game controller is recommended though) with a few stutters at moments of high action. The phone has a Gaming Tools enhancement that provides quick access to WhatsApp and Discord, and keeps track of the phone temperature. As with the screen, there are no quibbles here – the phone is responds quickly to touches and it’s all very smooth.

Powering the phone is a 4,500 mAh battery which easily gave me a day of use as long as I wasn’t burning through it with non-stop gaming. Sadly Warp has been relegated to the past with the introduction of SuperVOOC charging from Oppo. I liked Warp and Dash charging. SuperVOOC just sounds cheap. Anyway….this 65W charging should take the phone from 0% to 100% in 32 minutes and in my tests, it wasn’t far off at all, taking 34 minutes and 10 seconds. The charger is in the box (hurrah) and has a USB A socket, so the charging cable is USB A to USB C. No, there’s no wireless charging before you ask.

Cameras….The Nord CE 2 5G officially has three cameras on the back and one selfie camera around the front. The smartphone uses the same camera app as all the other OnePlus phones as far as I’m aware and offers time-lapse, panoramic, slow-motion, video, photo, portrait and nightscape and pro modes. Starting with the selfie cam, it’s a 16 MP Sony IMX471 that OnePlus has used many times. I feel it takes good enough selfie photos with reasonably accurate skin tones. For the rear, there’s a 64 MP main camera, an 8 MP ultra-wide with 119° field of view and a macro 2 MP unit for close-ups. The camera app is enhanced by AI features that help with scene detection to help get the absolute best from the images. In particular, low-light photos should be improved as well and video performance has been enhanced. The Nord 2 introduced these smart features and they’ve been brought to the Nord CE 2 courtesy of the MediaTek CPU chipset.

In reviewing the cameras, there are definitely some improvements over the original Nord CE. One of the original problems was a kind of motion blur on the edge of wide-angle shots and I’m pleased to say that this has gone. Colour saturation can still be a bit iffy – the sky tended to come out over blue (it’s not the Caribbean, y’know) courtesy of the AI and but sometimes large areas of colour could be stronger. In the picture on the right, the tiles are green, not grey.

Having said all that, I did take some other pictures that I’m really quite pleased with. The basket with pine cones is a favourite. No editing to these shots other than resizing.

   

Overall, the camera has improved since the original CE and for the average person, there’s not much to argue with. The AI does it’s best to create a good photo and you can always turn it off.

Lastly, the CE 2’s OxygenOS 11 is based on Android 11 with OnePlus keeping tinkering to the minimum but adding value where it can. That’s the OnePlus way and to extend that value, the company is committing to 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security updates. Android 12 is promised later in 2022.

Clearly, the Nord CE 2 has loads of other features that you’d expect as standard: Wi-Fi bgnac, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, GPS, in-display fingerprint reader, dual SIM slot and so on. Rather than review each in turn, I’ll simply confirm that everything is as you’d expect.

Let’s talk about covers…the bumper covers are back to being sandstone which is a definite improvement over the previous generation.

On to the pricing….OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G 8 GB + 128 GB: GB£299 / 329€. Incredibly, there’s no price inflation, which is great to see.  Unfortunately, the CE 2 5G is a European and Indian release only so our American cousins will be disappointed.

So does the OnePlus Nord CE 2 meet expectations as a “Core Edition” focussing on what’s really needed without all the frippery? On the whole yes: 5G, great screen, powerful enough processor, day-long battery life, fast charging, 2 years of software updates, lovely colour. Considering there’s a jump of about £70 to the Nord 2, I think it’s good value. It’s not perfect but for the price, I’d have no hesitation in recommending it to friends and family.

Available now. See more in the video below.

Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the Nord CE 2 smartphone for review.


Horstmann ChannelPlus H27XL Controller: Built to Fail



On Sunday morning I was looking forward to a lazy few hours in my PJs. The plan called for a hearty breakfast, freshly ground coffee, some light reading and a hot shower before deciding what to do for the reminder of the day. Regrettably, the unexpectedly cold water from the showerhead put an end to an otherwise agreeable time.

Further investigation was required and normally, I’d put this event down to excessively long showers by my teenage daughter but as she was still in bed, that wasn’t the problem on this particular morning. I traced the fault to this, the Horstmann Channel Plus H27XL water and heating controller. It’s a simple two channel 7 day timer that controls my gas boiler, and after working flawlessly for many years, it appeared to be completely dead. I checked the mains power to the controller was still on and no amount of button-pushing could bring the device back to life.

At this point, it looked to be time for a new unit. Online, the price for a replacement H27XL looked to be around GB£60-£70, but as I was browsing for the best price, I came across reviews and posts complaining about an internal battery. Although used for backing up the timer settings during power failures, once the battery ran out, the controller stopped working completely. Completely.

The H27XL is held together with two screws, a crosshead on the left and a Torx-style on the right, and both covered with stickers. Horstmann certainly aren’t making it easy to open up the controller. Once inside there’s a standard CR2450 lithium battery held in place with a couple of tiny spot welds. A battery that costs less than £3. Five minutes of prying with a flat-bladed screwdriver extricated the battery from the contacts.

A further minute and some sticky tape (it’s only 3V DC but use insulating tape if you want to be really safe) and I have a fresh battery powering the unit, though it still looks dead at this point. I’ll replace the sticky tape with a battery holder once I find a suitable model over at Farnell.

I put it all back together and fitted the controller back onto its connecting base plate. Straightaway the H27XL powered on and fired up the boiler. 20 minutes later and I was back relaxing in the shower with hot water. Aaah!

I can’t say whether this is deliberate obsolescence by design but it doesn’t look good. The battery is always going to run out at some point and it’s poor that it’s not user-replaceable, especially in this era of trying to reduce e-waste. All I can say for sure is that I won’t be buying any Horstmann products in the future.

(Horstmann Controls now seems to be Secure Meters and is entirely unrelated to the German firm Horstmann Gmbh.)


Hands-On with the OnePlus Nord CE 5G



OnePlus LogoThe OnePlus Nord CE 5G drops into the crowded mid-range market where there’s no shortage of competitors wanting to take your money. OnePlus pitches the CE as “Core Edition” focussing on key features requested by its user community: “Heavy on features, light on price” says OnePlus. Obviously, there’s 5G in the CE, but what else does this new Nord offer? Let’s take a look…

Back view of OnePlus CE 5G smartphone showing sea green colourThe Nord CE 5G arrives in a black cardboard box with Nord branding picked out in reflective navy blue. There’s a clear contrast between the Nord’s black box and the red boxes reserved for the higher-end models. Opening the box reveals the CE 5G phone itself, along with a semi-transparent bumper case, a SIM tray tool, a few small manuals, a Warp charger and a USB charging cable.

Unwrapping the Nord CE 5G, it’s clear that it continues OnePlus’ current design cues which stretch back at least as far as the 7 series. There’s nothing unexpected here – flat glass front, pinhole camera top left, power button on right, USB C on the bottom, smooth curved back with attractive colouring, vertical triple camera array. It’s largely by the numbers. What’s different? There’s no alert slider but the 3.5 mm headphone jack makes a return to the smartphone. I think the restoration of the jack is a good move at this price point: my daughter prefers wired headphones as she’s less inclined to lose them and if she does, they’re cheaper to replace.

Sizewise, the CE 5G is within a millimetre or two of most recent OnePlus handsets at 159 mm x 74 mm, but it’s only 7.9 mm deep, making it the thinnest OnePlus since the 6T. Weighing in at 170 g, it’s lighter than the Nord by 14 g, though you’re unlikely to notice the difference day-to-day. The back of the CE 5G is polycarbonate rather than glass and it doesn’t quite feel as premium as I’d like but the Blue Void colour is lovely. It’s very similar to the Glacial Green of the OnePlus 8 but as you rotate the phone from the back to the front, the curved edge of the back takes on this lovely purple tone. There are other colours, Charcoal Ink and Silver Ray, but I’ve not seen them in the flesh. The Silver Ray version is only available with the large memory capacity (12 GB + 256 GB)

Front view of OnePlus CE 5G showing home screenTurning on the CE 5G begins to show off the lovely 90 Hz Fluid AMOLED 6.43″ display (2400 x 1080 pixels, 410 ppi). It looks good, it’s fast and it has the controls of its more expensive siblings – screen calibration, refresh rate, vision comfort, reading mode. I do like the dynamic wallpapers that OnePlus offers and the Nord CE 5G comes with a couple of new ones that show off the display when the phone is unlocked.

In terms of sound, I’ve mentioned the return of the headphone jack, which is a good thing for a large chunk of the possible purchasers of the CE 5G. For speakers, there’s only the one at the bottom next to the USB C port. “It’ll do” is about as best as I can muster. It’s quite loud but playing music above two-thirds volume will start to distort the speaker and don’t expect much bass.

Powering the Nord handset is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G 5G Mobile Platform to give it the full title. Simplistically, this is a perfectly acceptable workhorse platform that offers some improvements over the 765G in the Nord. In day to day use, it’s a fine processor and keeps up with most activities. Will it run Fortnite? Yes, it does run Fortnite reasonably well, but there are definitely times when it stutters and all you can do is pray that it’s not at an inconvenient time. However, I have won a solo Battle Royale on the Nord CE 5G so it’s not a big deal. For something a bit more gentle, Pokemon Go runs beautifully. For the nerds, the phone scored 639 single-core and 1798 multi-core on Geekbench 5, putting it in amongst the Pixel 4, the Xiaomi Mi 9 and the Samsung Galaxy A51.

Powering the phone is a 4,500 mAh battery which easily gave me a day of use as long as I wasn’t burning through it with non-stop gaming. Even the battery does get a bit low, the supplied Warp 30T Plus charger is supposed to get the battery from 0% to 70% in 30 minutes. In my test run, it didn’t quite hit the 70% mark in the half-hour, but it was literally only a few minutes behind. The charger itself has a USB A socket, so the charging cable is USB A to USB C.

Cameras….The Nord CE 5G officially has three cameras on the back and one selfie camera around the front. The smartphone uses the same camera app as all the other OnePlus phones as far as I’m aware and offers time-lapse, panoramic, slow-motion, video, photo, portrait and nightscape and pro modes. Starting with the selfie cam, it’s a 16 MP Sony IMX471 that OnePlus has used many times. I feel it takes good enough selfie photos with reasonably accurate skin tones. For the rear, there’s a 64 MP main camera, an 8 MP ultra-wide with 119° field of view and a mono 2 MP unit that’s mainly used for depth sensing (as far as I know). The brand of the camera sensor is not revealed in the specs.

To review the rear cameras, I took a few photos to see how they turned out. Overall I was happy enough with the snaps but there are a couple of issues. First, colour saturation could be stronger: here’s my cat on a red blanket. The red of the blanket is way stronger than it appears to be in the picture.

Next, on ultrawide shots, even with ultra-wide lens correction turned on, you get this kind of motion blur effect on the edges of the shots. You can see it in the picture below. Again the colours of the flowers could do with just being that bit brighter too.

These would be my main two concerns, but I did take some other pictures that I’m really quite pleased with. I thought it handled close up shots better than panoramic ones. That bee has some load of pollen…

 

 

I think it would be fair to say that the Nord CE 5G takes photos that are acceptable without being outstanding.

Lastly, the CE’s OxygenOS 11 is based on Android 11 with OnePlus keeping tinkering to the minimum but adding value where it can. That’s the OnePlus way and to extend that value, the company is committing to 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security updates.

Clearly, the Nord CE 5G has loads of other features that you’d expect as standard: Wi-Fi bgnac, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, GPS, in-display fingerprint reader, dual SIM slot and so on. Rather than review each in turn, I’ll simply confirm that everything is as you’d expect.

Let’s talk about covers…OnePlus sent four bumper covers with the Nord – black, blue, purple and creme. They’re flat colours with flecks of straw through them. Again, using my daughter for her opinion as a prospective purchaser, she liked the purple one but thought that golden glitter mixed in would’ve been much better. I’m with her on this one. These will be priced at GB£17.99 when they’re available.

For most territories outside of the Americas, the CE 5G is the fourth Nord device alongside the Nord, N10 5G and N100. If you are looking to understand where the Nord CE 5G fits in the OnePlus line-up, it’s below the Nord but above the Nord N10. In terms of base pricing, the Nord is GB£379, the CE 5G is £299 and the N10 is £249, though the N10 has slightly less memory at 6 GB rather than 8G.

The Nord CE 5G comes in two variants for the UK:

  • 8 GB + 128 GB: GB£299 / 329€
  • 12 GB + 256 GB: GB£369 / 399€

So does the Nord CE 5G meet expectations as a “Core Edition” focussing on what’s really needed without all the frippery? On the whole yes: 5G, great screen, powerful enough processor, day-long battery life, fast charging, 2 years of software updates, lovely colour. There’s plenty to like but there are some negatives: the rear cover could be better though once the phone is in a case, it’s not noticeable, and the camera does have some failings. Overall, the Nord CE 5G is a good all-rounder without being exceptional. The snag is that there’s plenty of competition to consider as well. If you like it, the phone is on sale from the OnePlus store.

Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the Nord CE 5G smartphone for review.


OnePlus Apps – Clipt, TagHost, WellPaper



OnePlus LogoOnePlus are well-known for their successful range of smartphones but what’s less well known is that they have a small but growing collection of handy Android apps – Clipt, TagHost and WellPaper – produced by their software development team, OneLab Studio.

Mauve Clipt LogoSelected TextStarting with Clipt, it’s a handy clipboard tool that let’s you copy’n’paste between your mobile devices and your PC’s Chromium-based browser. In addition to the Clipt app on the Android devices, you need the complementary Chrome extension, plus access to Google Drive to get it all working smoothly.

Clipt works with four different types of material – text, links, images and files – in slightly different ways but it’s really effective. For sending text and links from your phone or tablet to a PC, Clipt extends the built-in copy’n’paste function to offer a “Clipt” menu option which will push out whatever is highlight. For images, you use the Share to…..Clipt, and for files, Clipt works with the Files app to browse and find files.

On the browser side, the pinned Clipt extension brings in the transferred material almostly instantanously. I can get a picture I’ve discovered on the web on my phone into a Word document on the PC in three taps / clicks. On phone (tap 1) Share to… (tap 2) Clipt and finally on PC (click 3) Paste. It really is that simple.

You can go the other way too. Say you’ve found a funny clip on your PC but you want to send it via WhatsApp on your phone. Copy the link and Clipt will have it ready for you on your phone to simply paste into WhatsApp.

It’s brilliant if you’re one of these people who are constantly juggling PCs, Chromebooks, tablets and phones. I’d really recommend trying Clipt.

TagHost Hash LogoRanked HashtagsTagHost is tool for Instagrammers to see which hastags are the most popular in amongst lots of small but subtle variations. First, find a post on Instagram that’s of interest and then paste it into the TagHost app. The app will extract all the hastags from the post and any post comments below. Once the hashtags have been collected, Tag Host will show how popular the tags are so that you know which ones to use in your own posts. In the example to the right, #watchfam and #watchcollector are hot, #watchtime and #watchfreaks are not. It’s straightforward and keeps your ‘Gram posts tidy but effective.

Three coloured square filters at an angleSquares Show ActivityFinally, WellPaper is a live background which keeps track of your activities during the day and presents them as one of three different visualisations; Composition, Radial and Glow.

Composition is a Mondrian-esque wallpaper that uses rectangles to represent the relative proportion of time spent in each activity area. Radial is a soft blend of colour, almost like an artist’s palette, that morphs during the day. Last, Glow uses concentric rings to show busy-ness.

Concentric RingsWellPaper uses six categories: Lifestyle & Comms, Info & Business, Game, Social, Entertainment and Tools to track and show your use of apps on your phone. Each apps time within the category is further broken down but at present you can’t choose which category an app falls into. For example, Slack might be Social or it might be Business, depending on how you use it.

Regardless of which visualisation you like, you can quickly get an idea of your activity and if you’re over doing it when it comes to your social networking or gaming.

That’s three useful apps from the team at OnePlus. I’d particular recommend Clipt and I have WellPaper running on my OnePlus 9 as I write.


AUKEY Omnia 100W 4-Port PD Charger with GaNFast Technology



If you’re still using the wall charger you picked up a few years ago. It’s time to either donate that device to charity or give it to the kids because the new AUKEY OMNIA 100W 4-Port charger with GaNFast tech is what you are going to want to upgrade to. Honestly up to this point my current wall chargers were simply not equipped with the latest tech to take advantage of rapid charging all of my newest devices that take advantage of fast charging.

On my bedstand, I have 2 phones, an iPad, and an Apple watch all get fully charged each evening or in some cases mid-day during the weekends. Not to mention sometimes needing to plugin while at the office.  Most USB-C devices are compatible including phones, tablets, laptops, etc. Augmented with AUKEY Dynamic Detect, each USB-C port can output the full power of the charger with 100W Power Delivery when used on its own, while 45W Power Delivery for each USB-C ports and 12W split between USB-A ports when four ports used together

You can even charge a Macbook Pro 16″ in just under 2 hours with the actual charger 20% smaller. Of course, designed with a foldable plug so that it does not take up much space when you are on the go.

The best part it’s inexpensive coming in at $56.99 on Amazon