Category Archives: smartphone

Xiaomi’s Flagship Killer…the Poco F2 Pro



Xiaomi have certainly been busy in the past few weeks, releasing updated versions across its product line – Redmi, Mi and now Poco, with the release of the F2 Pro. It’s a replacement for the Pocophone F1 and is now just branded Poco, which is a definite improvement over something that sounds like Pokemon. Having said that, this is not a brand new phone as the F2 is a variant of the Redmi K30 Pro. Whatever the label, this is is Xiaomi’s “flagship killer” and on paper, it’s definitely a worthy contender in the not-ridiculously-expensive-but-well-specced section. Let’s work round the details.

Looking at the phone, there’s a 6.67″ 2400 x 1080 FHD+ AMOLED “Ultimate Full Screen Display”. Unlike many high-end phones, this screen seems to be flat without a curved edge which might be seen as a good thing by some people. It’s an HDR10+ screen with a contrast ratio of 5 million to 1 and there’s an in-screen fingerprint sensor behind the Gorilla Glass. Physically the phone is 163.3 mm x 75.4 mm x 8.9 mm and weighs in at 218 g. It comes four colours – Cyber Grey, Electric Purple, Phantom White, Neon Blue.

Round the back, there are four cameras arranged on a disk. The main shooter is a 64 MP camera with a Sony IMX686 sensor. Second, there’s a 13 MP ultra wide-angle camera with a 123° field of view. Next is a 5 MP telemacro camera that can focus down to just a few centimetres and finally there’s a 2 MP depth sensor camera for when you want some bokeh. Round the front, there’s a selfie camera which pops up from the top of the phone. It’s a 20 MP sensor.

Inside there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 with a Kryo 585 CPU and an Adreno 650 GPU plus support for 5G and WiFi 6. At this point, it’s worth mentioning that there are two versions of the F2 available, one with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB storage and another with 8 GB and 256 GB. Oddly, the 6 GB version is LPDDR4X, whereas the 8 GB one is LPDDR5. There are dual SIMs but only one can be 5G (as I understand the specs).

Powering the F2 Pro is 4,700mAh battery with 30W fast charging via USB C. There’s no wireless charging here, but 30 mins boosts the phone from 0 to 64%, and you’ll get 100% in just over an hour.

Other features include an IR blaster (kind of a Xiaomi feature) and fan-favourite, a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

Price-wise the Poco F2 Pro comes in at €499/$499 for the 6GB/128GB version and €599/$599 for the 8GB/256GB storage version. The phone will be available in regions as the summer progresses but if you can’t wait, the phone is already available from GearBest.


LG Velvet Reveal in S Korea



Another week, another phone launch and it’s LG‘s turn with the new LG Velvet. For those keeping count, the Velvet is really the next iteration of the G8, so think of the Velvet as the G9, though it’s not quite as high-end as might be expected from the G-range. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Let’s take a look.

From the front, the Velvet looks like most of today’s smartphones: 6.8-inch 1080 x 2460 OLED screen with a 20.5:9 aspect ratio. No real surprises there, but round the back it’s a little bit different. Instead of a dark cluster of lenses, the Velvet has a raindrop effect, with a larger lens at the top, two smaller lenses below and a flash at the bottom, all spaced out . It’s a good look – check the picture. The cameras themselves are a 48 MP main sensor, an 8 MP ultra-wide camera and a 5 MP depth sensor. It’s a 16 MP selfie shooter on the front. As expected for a phone of this calibre, there’s an in-display fingerprint scanner.

Driving the smartphone is a Snapdragon 765G chipset with 5G support. There’s 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage and a microSD card slot which is always a welcome addition. The 765G might not be top of the range but it’s a strong performer and most people will find it very acceptable.

Keeping the juice flowing is a 4,300 mAh battery, and the Velvet offers both wired fast charging and 10 W wireless charging. I imagine that battery will keep the phone going for over a day. In terms of other features, the Velvet has IP68 rating for dust and water ingress, and there’s a 3.5 mm audio socket for the audio fans.

And for the Velvet’s party tricks…to start with there’s support for LG’s dual screen accessory, which I think is a great idea to increase screen real estate without the risks of a folding screen. But in addition to the dual screen, the Velvet also supports a stylus pen for fine editing and control. That’s something that I’ve only heard of on tablets and it’ll be interesting to see it in action on a phone. It’ll be even more interesting if the dual screen supports the pen too.

For now, the Velvet is only available in South Korea but an announcement is expected in mid-May regarding the rest of the world. Price-wise, it’s going to be ₩899,800 in S Korea, which is around US$730.


Xiaomi Reveals Mi Note 10 Lite



In addition to the Redmi Note 9 and 9 Pro announced last week, Xiaomi also unveiled the Mi Note 10 Lite. Based on the Mi Note 10 from last year which offers a whopping 108 MP rear camera, the Lite edition reduces the specs in few places to make the phone a little bit more affordable while still looking premium. As the Note 10 itself starts at GB£459, it’s definitely in upper mid-range territory, so it will be interesting to see what the Mi Note 10 Lite offers at a lower price point. Let’s take a look.

The Mi Note 10 Lite looks great with Gorilla Glass on both the front and the back of the phone. The display features a 6.47″ curved AMOLED FHD+ (2340 x 1080) screen on the front, with a tear drop 16 MP camera at the centre top. It’s a 19.5:9 aspect ratio display with HDR10. On the rear, there’s a quad camera setup, with cameras vertically aligned on the left-hand side. The main lens features a 65 MP wide-angle camera and is complemented by an 8 MP ultra wide-angle camera, a 5 MP depth sensor and a 2 MP macro camera. This is a very similar camera array to the Redmi Note 9 Pro.

Unlike the Redmi devices, the Note 10 Lite comes with in-display fingerprint sensor, and phone comes in three colours; glacier white, midnight black & nebula purple. Overall dimensions are 157.8 x 74.2 x 9.67 mm, and the Note 10 Lite weighs in at 204 g.

Powering the 10 Lite is the same chipset as its full fat brother, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G. This consists of a Kryo 470 octa-core 2.3 GHz CPU paired with an Adreno 618 CPU and X15 LTE modem. When it comes to RAM and storage, there are three combinations available – 6 GB+64 GB, 6 GB+128 GB, 8 GB+128 GB. It’s not clear whether there’s a link between memory configuration and available colours.

From the specs, it doesn’t look like there’s a memory card expansion slot which is disappointing. There’s a 5,260 mAh battery with 30W fast charge via a USB C port. That’ll charge to 50% from 0% in 30 mins or less, which is handy, although Xiaomi reckon on 2 days-worth of use from a full charge.

As expected at this price point, it’s 4G only, though it does take a pair of SIMs. There’s Bluetooth 5.0 and a 3.5 mm headphone socket, and unusually an IR remote which is good for controlling TVs and other AV gear.

Pricewise, the Mi Note 10 Lite starts at 349 € (euros) for the base model, which is a considerable saving over the big brother, so if you want a premium-looking phone for not much money, check it out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the Note 10 is coming to the UK any time soon, but the rest of the world can expect it to land in mid-May.


BBC Omits Central Database in Contact Tracing App Story



With the UK’s NHS Contract Tracing app being tested in the Isle of Wight this week, the BBC ran a story on how the app works in the evening news today. While the lovely graphics illustrated how the app worked, the story conveniently forgot to mention that all the contact data collected goes back to a central database.

Unlike much of the free world, instead of adopting the Google-Apple decentralised approach, the NHS has gone ahead with its plans to base its tracking on a central database – there’s more at The Register and The Guardian newspaper. Simplistically, while both versions use Bluetooth proximity to detect others nearby, in the Google-Apple model only the phones know with whom you have been in contact. In the NHS version, the contact data is passed back to a central server for contact matching. This is manna from heaven for a UK government which has a reputation for increasing levels of privacy abuse.

So it’s all very handy then that the BBC omitted to mention that all the app users’ contact tracing information, which will likely include location data, will be neatly shuffled back to a central server for review and matching by the NHS. Yes, it’s anonymised but it doesn’t take much to figure out who someone is if night-after-night they go back to the same address.

The programme is here but I’m not sure how long it will stay online for or if it’s available worldwide. Look at around the 7 minutes 45 seconds. There’s no mention of the central database in either the narrative or the infographics.

Sorry, NHS, I’ll not be downloading your app. BBC, stop lying by omission.

Update 4/5/20: The BBC has produced a more balanced article here.


Xiaomi Announces Redmi Note 9 and Note 9 Pro Phones



There’s hardly a day goes by at the moment without a smartphone launch and today it’s the turn of the Redmi Note 9 and Note 9 Pro. Redmi is one of Xiaomi‘s brands along with Mi and Pocophone, and unlike its Chinese competitor Huawei, Xiaomi still has access to US technology so there’s full access to Google Play and updates to Android. While Xiaomi and Redmi aren’t well known in the UK and USA, they’re hugely popular world-wide, with both Note 8 phones featuring in the global top 10. I watched the on-line launch and there were over 14,000 people viewing YouTube.

Typically, the Redmi phones are priced at less than GB£300 while still offering decent specs on paper, such as 6 GB RAM, 128 GB storage and a 64 MP camera. These aren’t all-round flagship phones – there’s no wireless charging for example – but offer good value for money with a couple of flagship-level features, such as the high definition camera. The demonstration photography and video shown at the launch was very impressive. Let’s take a look.

The Note 9 Pro is the usual smartphone design with a 6.67″ FHD+ display (2400 x 1080) on the front with a 16 MP in-display camera centred at the top. Round the back, there’s a quad camera setup with a 64 MP main shooter, an 8 MP ultra wide-angle camera, a 5 MP macro camera and a 2 MP depth sensor, which sounds interesting. There’s a finger print sensor on the side, and phone comes in three colourways; interstellar grey, glacier white, tropical green. Overall dimensions are 165.75 x 76.68 x 8.8 mm, and the 9 Pro weighs in at 209 g.

The Pro has a quirky video mode called Kaleidoscope which is exactly as you’d imagine, giving weird reflections and angles, just like looking down a kaleidoscope. It works on both the main rear camera and front selfie camera.

Powering the Note is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G made up of a Kryo octa-core 2.3 GHz CPU paired with an Adreno 618 CPU. It’s the first time that a Snapdragon CPU has featured in a Redmi phone. There’s 6GB of RAM and a choice of 64 GB or 128 GB of storage with expansion up to 512 GB via memory card. There’s a 5020 mAh battery with 30W fast charge via a USB C port. That’ll charge to 50% from 0% in 30 mins or less.

As expected at this price point, it’s 4G only, though it does take a pair of SIMs. There’s Bluetooth 5.0 and a 3.5 mm headphone socket, and unusually an IR remote which is good for controlling TVs and other AV gear.

Moving on to the Redmi Note 9, it has a similar form factor and style but lower specs for the cameras and the processor. This time, it’s 6.53″ FHD+ display (2340 x 1080) with a 13 MP in-display selfie cam on the top left. On the rear, there’s a similar array of four cameras: a 48 MP wide-angle main camera, an 8 MP ultra-wide angle camera, a 2 MP macro and a 2 MP depth sensor. The finger printer sensor is on the rear too, and there’s a selection of three colours: midnight grey, polar white and forest green. The Note 9 is slight smaller but fatter than the Pro, with dimensions of 162.3 x 77.2 x 8.9 mm and 199g.

Inside is a MediaTek Helio G85 which uses an octa-core 2.0 GHz CPU and an ARM Mali-G52 GPU. There are two models, one with 3 GB RAM and 64 GB storage and another sporting 4 GB RAM and 128 GB storage. As with the Pro, storage can be expanded with a memory card to 512 GB. There’s a 5020 mAh battery with 18W fast charge via a USB C port. That’ll give more than 2 days worth of power in normal use.

As with the Pro, there’s 4G and a pair of SIMs. Bluetooth 5.0, headphone socket and the IR blaster.

Pricing-wise, the Redmi 9 Pro 64 is US$269 for the 64 GB one and the 128 GB model is $US299.
For the Redmi 9, the 3 GB / 64 GB version is US$199 and the 4 GB / 128 GB one is US$249.
Both will be available from mid-May.

I’m afraid pricing and availability is still to be confirmed for the UK, though I imagine it will be in line with current pricing and the US prices.


Motorola Returns to the High-End with Edge and Edge+



Motorola‘s been firmly established as the go-to provided of mid-range phones with its long running g-series of handsets, but the absence of a top-end phone has been noticeable, despite the appearance of a rebooted Razr. Fortunately, Moto have addressed this with the launch today of two new devices, the Edge and Edge+. Motorola reckon these will be the fastest, loudest and boldest.

This time round, Motorola are sticking to the traditional flat slab format – there are no folding screens here. The Edge+ is the high-end flagship supported by the less powerful Edge, which is still well above the g-series in terms of spec.

Both use the same screen each sporting a 6.7″ 21:9 aspect ratio “Endless Edge Display” with HDR10+ and 90 Hz refresh rate. It’s a 10 bit FHD+ OLED display and as is the fashion, it’s curved at the sides, though it seems the curves have quite a small radius, giving a significant edge to the screen (has the penny dropped?) Motorola are taking advantage of this Edge for actions – swipe down to show notifications, notifications – it’ll glow when a call comes in, and status, showing battery level when charging. There’s demo video here.

Under the hood, they’re both sporting the popular Qualcomm Snapdragons, but the Edge+ gets the faster Snapdragon 865 paired with 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 256GB of storage. This combination of processor, RAM and storage appears to be the definition of high-end for 2020. The Edge takes the Snapdragon 765, with 6 GB RAM in Europe (4 GB USA) and 128 GB of storage, though this can be supplemented up to 1 TB with a memory card.

Unsurprisingly for 2020, both phones are 5G devices, with the Edge+ working with both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies. There’s WiFi 6 in there too.

A 5000 mAh battery will keep the Edge+ phone powered up for two days in normal use, though what constitutes normal will clearly vary. The Edge has a slightly smaller 4500 mAh battery and much like the OnePlus 8 series, the Edge+ has wireless charging (15W) but the Edge doesn’t, surviving with only 18W TurboPower wired charging.

Round the back, it’s a triple camera setup for the Edge+, with a 108 MP main shooter, a 16 MP ultrawide lens with macro vison and an 8 MP telephoto lens. The selfie camera is a 25 MP sensor with a hole-punch in the top left of the display. The Edge has slightly lower specs with a 64 MP main lens, but otherwise the 16 MP ultrawide lens with macro vison and an 8 MP telephoto lens are unchanged.

With dual stereo stereo speakers and precision audio tuned by Waves Audio, both Edge phones have the loudest, most powerful audio on a smartphone, and in news that will delight audiophiles, the phones both retain the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Regrettably, the Edge+ won’t be coming to the UK and it’s a Verizon exclusive in the US to run on their superfast 5G. It’ll be available in the US on 14 May priced at a cool US$999. In Europe, residents of Italy, Scandinavian countries and Serbia will be able to get their hands on the phones.

For the UK, the Edge will go on sale in May 2020 priced at GB£579 from O2, John Lewis, Amazon and Argos.


OnePlus 8 Hands-On Review



True to form, OnePlus has announced its spring line up of smartphones, the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro. Fortunately, I was sent a pair of review handsets and in this article, I’ll be going over the 8. While rumours still abound about a third lower level phone, the 8 remains the entry point into OnePlus’ range. I think it will be very popular as it shares many of the characteristics of its big brother but at a lower price. Let’s take a look…but first a word of warning. It’s really hard to write two completely different reviews for two very similar phones, so I’m going to admit right up front that some of the paragraphs are completely lifted from the review of the 8 Pro only with the detail changed for the 8. Sorry.

The 8 comes in rectangular box, bathed in the usual OnePlus red. Inside the box, the phone comes initially clothed in a slightly opaque covering. Once unwrapped, the frosted glass Glacial Green on the back becomes apparent. It’s lovely, both to look at and hold. There’s a slight matte texture to the rear glass so it’s not super slippy to hold (unlike my 6T), but you’re going need a case, and OnePlus kindly includes a transparent bumper case in the box too. In terms of colours, the Pro will offer two colour options in the UK. Onyx Black which will have 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage, and Glacial Green with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. A third colour, Interstellar Glow, will not available in the UK. I know the rear looks blue in the photos but that’s the way the back reflects light under different conditions.

Physically, the phone is 160.2 x 72.9 x 8.0 mm and weighs in at 180 g, so it’s slightly shorter and lighter than the 8 Pro, but these dimensions are very much in-line with previous generations of the phone, like the 6T. However, it’s a bigger screen for the same body size. Returning to the physical characteristics, it follows a similar layout to most OnePlus phones. USB-C 3.1 port on the bottom, volume controls on the left, power button on the right, alert slider on the right above power, cameras on the back. The SIM tray is at the bottom next to the USB port and supports two SIMS that are inserted back-to-back. A SIM ejection tool is included. There’s no audio socket and there hasn’t been for a couple of generations.

For the screen, the 8 has a lovely 90 Hz “fluid display”. It’s very fast, it’s clear and the colours look great. With a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels and a screen size of 6.34″/6.55″, it comes out as 402 ppi. I can’t see the dots unless I look really close. The screen has rounded edges, hence the two measurements for size. It’s an AMOLED screen with 3D Corning Gorilla Glass on top keeping it safe. Like the 8 Pro, the screen has the curved edges, but I think the curves are sharper on the 8, making it more like a traditional flat screen. There’s an in-display fingerprint sensor which is impressively fast – it’s noticeably quicker than the one on my 6T.

Under the hood, and just like the 8 Pro, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 CPU, paired with an Adreno 650 GPU. The RAM is LPDDR4 and storage is courtesy of UFS 3.0 at either 128 GB or 256 GB. 5G is provided by the X55 chipset and WiFi 6 is supported. Performance-wise, after three runs GeekBench 5 gave average scores of 915 single-core and 3385 multi-core which comfortably beat last year’s 7T. Bizarrely, the 8’s GeekBench 5 score actually beats the 8 Pro.  I don’t know why.

Unlike the 7 and 7T, the 8 doesn’t have a teardrop camera and instead has a discreet hole-punch 16 MP camera in the top left of the screen. Round the back, the 8 has three other cameras; a 2 MP macro camera, a 16 MP ultrawide with a 116 degree field of view and a 48 MP main camera. The front camera and main camera all use Sony sensors. The cameras do stick out the back by a couple of millimetres, so a case of some kind is going to be essential to avoid scratching. The camera app itself has been improved to take advantage of the cameras automatically and will sometimes suggest that a photo would be better taken in a different mode. If you want bokeh, the portrait mode does a good job blurring the background. The macro camera’s good fun and you can play with your children to capture some of those ever-popular mini-beasts. I was really impressed by the level of magnification that was possible with the 48 MP camera and the colours are good and true to life.

The two photos below were taken from the same spot at nearly the same time. The upper one is the ultrawide and middle one is the main camera without any magnification, and the lower one is the main camera with 2x magnification.

Unlike the 8 Pro, there’s no funky colour filter camera, but there are still some effects available within the app. Here’s my shed in “black and white”. Astute readers will notice that it’s been painted (cf 8 Pro review).

Inside the phone is a 4500 mAh battery which is only 10 mAh smaller than the 8 Pro. Hmm, I think there might be a little shenanigans there to make sure that the top-end phone has the bigger battery. In what I think of as ordinary use, I got the best part of two days out of a charge, but yes, game playing is still energy expensive. For charging, OnePlus’ Warp Charge 30T delivers 30W of power and will charge the 8 from 1% to 50% in 22 minutes – I’ve actually tested this and it’s true. A Warp Charge 30 charger and cable come in the box with the 8, so there’s nothing extra to buy.

The other new feature relates to battery longevity. The perceived wisdom is that keeping lithium-ion batteries at 100% is not optimal and that overtime the capacity of the battery degrades. The 8 now has a feature (undoubtedly powered by AI) where the phone uses behaviour patterns to predict when 100% charge is needed and to charge to hit the target. For example, if you plug the 8 in at night just before going to bed, it won’t start charging until say, 0530, knowing that you usually grab the phone while having breakfast at 0700.

Based on Android 10, OxygenOS has seen a few improvements here and there but retains its closeness to stock Android that is very much part of its appeal. The most obvious of these is dynamic backgrounds which swirl and morph when the phone is turned on or you swipe between launcher pages. It’s really fun. For lovers of dark modes, OnePlus has developed a new mode theme from the ground up. I’m not generally a dark mode user, but what I did see during testing looked good: I could be a convert.

Games play really well on the 8. I tried out Call of Duty, X-Plane and Galaxy on Fire for starters and they’re all great. The 8 includes “gaming mode” and “fnatic mode” which lets you tailor the gaming experience by devoting resources and blocking notifications when you’re in the zone, as it were. It’s a super smooth experience.

The only downside I’ve discovered to the 8 is with the pre-installed screen protector. First, it’s not as well installed as it is on the 8 Pro. On the Pro, I had to look really hard to find the edges of the screen protector; it’s just about seamless and there’s no cut-out for the camera. Whereas on the 8, it’s quite obvious, particularly round the hole-punch camera. And secondly, the screen protector on the 8 seems to be a perfect dust magnet! I didn’t have this problem with the 8 Pro and it’s very annoying.

Pricing-wise…

OnePlus 8
8 GB / 128 GB – US$699 / GB£599
12 GB / 256 GB – US$799 / GB£699
The OnePlus 8 series will be available SIM-free from OnePlus.com, John Lewis and Amazon from 0900 on 21 April, with all John Lewis purchases also coming with Bullets Wireless 2 headphones while stock lasts.

Overall, this is a seriously good phone at a good price and very much continues the progression of the standard OnePlus phones. It’s a premium-feeling phone, it looks fabulous, there’s no skimping on the performance and everything else like the screen and the cameras are within spitting distance of the 8 Pro. You get 5G, WiFi 6, fast charging and OxygenOS. Frankly, if it was my money and the choice was between an 8 at £599 and an 8 Pro at £799, I think I’d buy the 8 and keep the £200 change.

Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the 8 for review.