Category Archives: review

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


ScoutPro: 240 Watt Powerbank – Kickstarter



The ScoutPro: 240 Watt Powerbank is the absolute ultimate beast in battery backup to recharge or run devices outright for USBA/C1/C2/ and wireless devices that I have seen in a very long time. This Powerbank will charge and power almost anything it has two USB-C ports capable of 100 Watts of charging power each. It charged my dead Samsung Galaxy S20 in just about 50 minutes to a full charge.  I do not get that performance out of my Samsung wired charger.  It has universal wireless charging as well built-in.

Obviously, I get a lot of devices to review and the majority never make it into my everyday bag of charging cables, gadgets, etc. This one did only after 24 hours of utilization. I have tested many multipurpose Powerbank devices in the past this one just blows every product I have used to date out of the water.

Let me break it down for you.

  • 24000 mAh
  • USB C1 100W
  • USB C2 100W
  • USB A 22.5W
  • Universal Smart Phone Fast Charging – Yes
  • Apple Watch Charger 2.5W
  • Wireless Charger

I’m a gadget guy and believe me I run out of power all the time, it’s usually when I am on the road or someplace where I need to juice up. Never in the past have I been able to “rapidly” charge two devices at once from one Powerbank. I have tested charging both my Samsung Galaxy S20 and my iPhone 12 at the same time and frankly, I was astonished. I even hooked it up to my MacBook Pro when I was down to 5% and kept working and the charged climbed while still actively using the computer.

This device is available via Kickstarter now and they have already reached their goal. You are not going to want to delay and get on the action at a significantly reduced price.

ScoutPro, by INTELLI, the ultimate all-in-one portable power bank!


Voyagers Film Review (2021)



This new film is the classic storyline that the human race is at stake and at the same time we have only marginally advanced having not yet achieved speed of light travel. Imagine being raised in a sterile environment as an infant and bio-engineered to travel in a largely automated spacecraft over many years and multiple generations to reach a new home among the stars. As young teenagers grow into adults, they embark on a mission in which they know they will die before they see the results of what could be man’s greatest attempt to colonize another planet.

Throw in some drugs to keep the emotions of young adults in check, and when they discover this fact and refuse to take it. The results are for the first time they feel fear, lust, passion, and want power. What could go wrong well let’s just say human nature is one that cannot be kept on reserve for long. This is a great movie that will think about the possibilities in the future and also not be so outlandish that we all could see ourselves being on that ship 50 years from now.

For those that love Space Odyssey, you’re going to want Act 2…

Written and directed by Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist), the film stars Tye Sheridan (The X-Men franchise), Lily-Rose Depp (The King), Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk), Chanté Adams (Roxanne, Roxanne), Isaac Hempstead Wright (“Game of Thrones”), Viveik Kalra (Blinded by the Light), Archie Madekwe (Midsommar), Quintessa Swindell (“Trinkets”), Madison Hu (“Bizaardvark”), and Colin Farrell (The Gentlemen).


The New Air Force One – Flying Fortress



If you have the National Geographic channel The New Air Force One – Flying Fortress film premiers today. I was given an early look at the National Geographic documentary and any of you that have watched any of the previous Air Force One series will want to see this premier and back story of the new Boeing 747-8i  that is being built for the President.  You may be surprised where the aircraft originated and the deal that President Trump did to lower the cost of the delivered airframe.

This is the first of many new looks at the new presidential aircraft that has a proud legacy. With the current airframe being harder to support, this newer aircraft will serve the president over the next several decades. Meet the team bringing the new Air Force One online.

While some of the story discusses the current Air Force One politics are at play with the color scheme. In that President Trump envisioned and new color scheme. But the final color scheme will be left to President Biden.  Enjoy this exclusive behind the scenes look at the new Air Force One.


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.