A colourful read

Aye, Aye Captain! Now in glorious colour.

I’ve been a Kindle owner (and e-book enthusiast) for a very long time. I have, at my last count, over 600 e-books I’ve collected, and all of them can fit comfortably on my Kindle Oasis and have room for over 25,000 more. Not that I would recommend that since with great convenience comes a massive pain point as you’re locked into an ecosystem which you can’t escape from.

Two problems.

The first is that while it is legal to break DRM in order to create backups of content, you are breaking the terms and conditions of, let’s say Amazon, who stipulate that you can’t do that. You risk having your account closed and losing absolutely all digital products you’ve ever bought with them. Yet there is a very widely published way of removing the DRM from Kindle books which allows you to use any app or device which supports ePub or some other format (such as PDF).

The second is that you’re reliant on the vendor to keep developing the hardware and software for reading the books.

Other problems include, but not limited to: exclusivity, and potentially price fixing. Not to mention the inability to digitally lend books to friends and family and other things that a paperback or hardback physical copy can do.

I have written to my local MP (Jonathan Lord) to enquire about the right to transfer digital content from one company platform to another – at least if you feel aggrieved about a particular platform, you can take your digital content to another service (and so on) without penalty. Likewise, transferring content from one person to another.

I feel we desperately need laws in this country to state that any non-tangible good such as digital music, film and TV shows or e-books will remain permanently with the consumer regardless of whatever happens to the original supplier, and that they have the right to transfer it to another company or platform, as well as transferring it to another person. Just because it’s a bunch of bits doesn’t make it any less value than a CD or vinyl, a DVD or VHS tape, or a paperback or hardback book. It’s the contents of the medium which is of value.

Consumers need protection from companies that provide digital content from going bust or leaving the market. Simply palming off a digital service to somebody else who eventually realises they can’t maintain it is not good enough.

Anyway, enough grumbling.

I have pre-ordered my first non-Kindle e-book reader – a Kobo Libra Colour, and moving my e-book ecosystem over to Kobo (and you’ve probably guessed what I’ve done to do so).

Books, books, books – as far as the eye can see. And in colour! Take THAT, Amazon.

For the longest time, e-book readers have been strictly black and white – but the technology to provide colour within text and images has been a long time coming. Kobo has beaten Amazon to the market with their Libra and Clara Colour readers which are similar to the Kindle Oasis and Paperwhite. Except the Libra can utilise a stylus for drawing, highlighting and making notes – and do it better than the Kindle can (and even then, only on their expensive and much bigger Scribe).

I like the idea of being able to annotate and make notes within an e-book. I need something to replace my aging Oasis which STILL utilises micro-USB charging. Amazon has seriously stalled on their reading hardware which, given the size of their e-book ecosystem, ironic. Kobo has clearly thought this through and jumped on the opportunity. The Libra and Colour have launched today, and early reviews suggest this could well see people like me move away from Kindle – at least for new content – and into the Koboverse.

I’m also trialing Kobo Plus which gives unlimited access to many e-books and audiobooks from the Kobo catalogue. One such audiobook I’m looking forward to trying to L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. It’s 47 hours long! But I read the original novel nearly two decades ago and found it to be excellent – very enjoyable. The e-book is also available via Kobo Plus too, so it’ll good to see if it works in a similar way to Amazon’s system whereby you can listen to the audiobook, fire up the e-book and it’ll put you right where you left off (and vice versa).

As the Libra utilises a colour display, I’ll also be giving several graphic novels a go. One complaint I’ve had with the Kindle app on the iPad mini is that I could never read the text as it was too small. From what I’ve seen, graphic novels should actually look good and be legible on this device.

A full review will be forthcoming. Will it make me sell my Oasis? What happens if Amazon release a colour Kindle? All these questions will be answered soon!

Meal “Deals”

I used to work in Soho. No, not doing THAT kind of work (although I was propositioned once in my 6 years there, and when asked if I wanted a good time I said, “Yes – go away.”) But, being in the heart of the UK film and creative industries also put me in the middle of some of the highest shop rental prices in the UK.

Even so, I paid a reasonable sum (~£3.50) for a good lunch that was always made fresh. I never needed to buy a drink, however, as we got free soda (and beer – on a Friday) whenever we liked. But eventually the place I used to regularly buy lunch from closed – I imagine because of the soaring rent increases. The shop (which had been visited by Dustin Hoffman once) was replaced by Agent Provocateur. Feel free to make up your own jokes.

If I were working a late shift (up until 10pm), the runners would bring us something from one of the local eateries. So that saved me a bit of money. I used to always enjoy a Bento box from Satsuma, which was a little further along Wardour Street.

Some 16 years later, I’m paying £6 for a meal deal at M&S located next door to Guildford station. Last week it used to be £5.50. That’s a price increase of nearly 10%. £30/week. For this, you get to choose from an extremely limited range of sandwiches and/or pasta/light meals, a limited selection of drinks, and a snack. I’d like a Pepsi Max, but nope – that’s not part of the meal deal. Coke Zero, however, is. If you’re going to charge £6/meal, I’d be bloody grateful if you could extend the range as to what I can have.

Everything is so expensive these days, even with inflation cooling slightly. I recently had a Dominos pizza which used to cost £15 including a drink and a side, but these days it’s a least an extra £10. Papa John’s is even more expensive.

Train prices have risen, and with that increased strike action and increasingly more signal failures. This leads to fewer people in the office, and me having to take an expensive Uber in to ensure somebody is around.

Life is free, but living is most certainly not.

Three months with the Google Pixel 8 Pro, Google Pixel Buds Pro & Google Pixel Watch 2

It’s been about three months since I replaced my iPhone 15 Pro Max (1Tb) with the Google Pixel 8 Pro (256Gb), and I do not regret it one bit. I have not wanted to change back. Despite only having 256Gb of storage, it’s been plenty for my needs so far – with the Pixel automatically uploading photos to Google Photos where I have 5Tb of Google One storage.

Google Photos provides a very straight forward web and device-based user interface for working with the photos. I take Google Takeout snapshots of the photos every two-three months and download them to the PC for safekeeping (which is then also replicated to my afi.ai Microsoft 365 backup via OneDrive, as well as regular backups to Wasabi S3 storage AND an external SSD AND a 512Gb microSD card – backups managed via MSP360 Backup). The photos taken with the Pixel 8 Pro are exceptional – and I’d even go to say that the depth of field is much, much better than the iPhone photos I’ve taken.

The two photos below were taken from the office (hence the reflection!) at 50 megapixels, the left with the standard lens and the right taken with the 5 times telephoto lens. I’ve got the phone set-up to take both 50 megapixel JPGs and RAW files. It’s slower to take photos this way (presumably given the processing time), but so far hasn’t been a problem.

I would ask EE and Google, however, if they could make future Pixel phones available beyond the 256Gb models that carriers keep in stock because if I want to record video, I’ll need some reasonable local storage for that. The Pixel 8 Pro does a decent job with video recording, but I’m still experimenting with it as I find that it occasionally produces jelly-like video in some situations. Working with H264 rather than H265 seems to help, but it may just be case that the bitrate needs to improve.

The “Video Boost” after-processing option is pretty good, but you have to remember to enable it every time you want to record it, can only work with single clips up to 9 minutes in length, and can’t be applied afterwards (I can’t find a reason why this isn’t possible, but simultaneously, I guess the processing costs for Video Boost are probably quite expensive – though I’d prefer THAT then the Gemini Advanced feature supplied with the Premium edition of Google One).

Test 4K footage from a train, H264 encoded, 30fps. No video boost. Standard stabilisation.

One of the best and most attractive features for me is the 7 years of OS updates. This means that this phone could potentially last me until Android 21. With everybody producing new phones every year, usually with only incremental hardware updates, this commitment from Google is very welcome to help reduce e-waste. Updates have been regular, pain-free and haven’t caused any problems – so far.

The very best feature – and the reason I swapped to the Pixel 8 Pro – is the call screening features. Not only can this screen incoming calls on device with the ability to provide a written transcription of the caller responding to the automated prompts so you can make a choice of whether to accept the call or not, but a feature called Direct My Call which will provide you with a written transcript of the automated system at the other end and present you with the menu options. An additional feature called Hold For Me will then listen in for on-hold music and will notify you immediately when somebody has picked up the phone. I find these features invaluable, and a big reason for me ditching the iPhone.

While Apple has been investing huge amounts of development time into their cameras and multimedia on the iPhone, it has neglected the main core of what the iPhone should be about – being a phone. It has only the very basic call handling functions and I found that third-party apps were absolutely useless. The Pixel, on the other hand, does a magnificent job. Google has prioritised appropriately.

Another feature I like is that the phone can utilise both fingerprint scanning as well as face recognition (which is now rated secure enough to support banking apps). Accuracy with both is pretty decent – certainly never had any major problems with it.

I’d ask Google to consider incorporating Dolby Atmos for standardised surround sound, since many other Android phones seem to be doing this. Having gone the full Google ecosystem on this – the watch and the earbuds – it’d be nice to take advantage of Apple Music’s Dolby Atmos surround system. Alas, I’m not ready to move fully to Spotify until:

  • They work on Dolby Atmos support
  • Make it possible to start and/or stop tracks at a specific point (like Apple Music)
  • Produce a better genre listing, featuring all new releases within a month or two
  • Better searching

The Pixel Buds Pro case remind me of Mork’s spacecraft from Mork and Mindy – it’s vaguely egg-shaped, but they fit better within my wallet than the AirPods Pro USB-C edition. The earbuds themselves are certainly not as easy to get into my ear like the AirPods do, but once they’re in, they’re certainly more comfortable than the Sony WF-1000XM4, which I bought two years ago. But the sound they produce is very good, however. Google has done well here. What I would like to see (well, hear) is support for Auracast.

The Pixel Watch 2 is a bit of downer, though. The small size isn’t a problem. It feels as if I’m wearing a smooth pebble on my (large) wrist. It’s comfortable and despite it’s smaller-than-I-usually-would-wear size of watch, the display is super sharp. Battery life is okay. Charging it up to 100% in the morning (~30 minutes from 34%) makes it last all day and night until the next charge – assuming I don’t do too much.

What the Pixel Watch 2 is absolutely rubbish at, though this isn’t something that Apple was much cop at either even with their Apple Watch Ultra 2, is sleep tracking. It either doesn’t record my sleep activity, says I’ve only slept for 30 minutes, or a combination of the two (didn’t record the main sleep, but recorded a nap). With a Premium subscription to Fitbit thrown in for Google One users, it’d be nice to take advantage of this – but the watch doesn’t seem to know when I’m awake or asleep. HA! And speaking of Fitbit, the user interface is bloody awful – especially the web interface which has a whole section to it I didn’t know about until I raised a support ticket with Google’s Fitbit division.

Other health monitoring functions (such as the heartrate) seem to be okay, however. I can use Google Pay with the watch, which is convenient, and also make and receive phone calls. As the watch comes from EE, it’s the cellular edition, so can stay connected away from the Pixel phone.

Other things I dislike about the Pixel Watch 2 is the the Watch app for Android is a load of rubbish. It’s extremely minimal. I found that it order to update apps manually, I need to do that from the watch, nor the app. Similarly for system updates. While this isn’t a big deal, it’s still something I’d expect the app to be able to do – especially as I’m coming from the Apple ecosystem.

I’ve also found that the screen can be overly sensitive and have found my watch either in battery saving mode or aeroplane mode when I haven’t deliberately selected those functions. It seems to occur whenever I wear a jacket.

It is also slow to change from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi to Cellular when needed – and I often find that I need to give it a bit of a nudge. Also note: setting up the Wi-Fi connection had to be done on the watch which was a pain in the arse.

I also have a Garmin Instinct 2 which is non-touchscreen, solar, lasts 3/4 of the month without a battery recharging, costs £150 less than the Pixel Watch 2 (though it is not cellular), and not only does it do sleep tracking properly, the companion Garmin Connect Android apps perform everything I’d expect them to do and more. I swap out the watches every few days. Sometimes I feel that the Pixel Watch 2 is too deliciated whereas the Instinct 2 is built like a brick s**t house, capable of withstanding almost anything.

I must admit that I am very disappointed in the Pixel Watch 2. Google can do so much better than this. At a basic level, it’s fine. But when competing with the likes of Apple or Garmin, it simply cannot fully compete at the same level right now. On the plus side, its support of WearOS apps and transferring audio books from Audible via Wi-Fi is a significant bonus over the Apple Watch.


The Office

After a month of various consultations and whatnot, one of my colleagues volunteered for redundancy, which means that I am still working for SMG. It comes as a relief, since job hunting is not very pleasant and despite having some strong leads, the whole process was enormously stressful.

My heart goes out to those that are looking for new positions, of course, and sincerely hope that this industry does better to accommodate growth responsibility from now on. That said, Take-Two Interactive, the publishers of a certain much-anticipated game called GTA VI, are planning layoffs too – potentially up to 579 jobs.

So, for me, the answer is still 42 and I’m still not from Guildford after all[1] but a small town called Woking. As for the question, well, only the mice[2] can figure that one out.

[1] I just work there.
[2] Pan-dimensional beings.

Music for the soul

Not much to say here, other than these are perhaps two of the greatest performances of film music I’ve seen to date.

First up is the late Ryuichi Sakamoto performing the theme to
Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (in which he also appeared). He won the Oscar (along with David Byrne and Cong Su) for best soundtrack in 1987. I love the use of traditional instruments at the start and building up to something epic before putting everything together in a powerful resolution.

The second performance is from Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (the English edition adapted by Neil Gaiman). It’s a glorious suite featuring the main theme, a wonderfully percussive action theme (The Demon God) and the main theme reprised, but featuring a vocal performance.

What strikes me about this is how beautiful the chorus is – particularly towards the end when joining the main vocalist. To have been there and heard this live would have been wonderful. Joe Hisaishi is one my favourite composers of all time, having composed many of Studio Ghibli’s works. A true master of his craft.

An informative and useful AV package

Ever since switching over to Microsoft 365 Business Premium for my personal email, I’ve removed Sophos Home Premium and BitDefender and replaced them with Microsoft Defender XDR. And I’m pretty, pretty, pretty impressed.

Not only does it have a significantly lower footprint and doesn’t slow up disk I/O (which was evident having plugged in an external SSD and measured performance with BitDefender and Microsoft Defender – Microsoft Defender significantly beating BitDefender by some margin), but having adjusted notifications for vulnerabilities on my personal Dell Inspiron Plus 16 (7630), I now get emails whenever I need to update software on my system.

And if I do encounter malware, I get native Windows notifications for it. It’s really well integrated within the OS, and all controlled and managed through the Defender web portal.

Time to update Google Chrome!

Overall, the past two months using Microsoft 365 Business Premium have been terrific, with excellent support that’s easy to find and with quick resolutions. I feel that Microsoft have certainly added value for money here over the Enterprise edition of Google Workspace.